Photo credit: Alex Lowy
I am open to miracles wherever they appear. Sometimes they show up in the form of a man with a buzz cut, decked out in a white suit and sneakers, toting a well worn suitcase, plastered with all kinds of stickers as he meandered around the grounds of Wiggins Park in Camden, NJ. It was the site of one of my favorite annual events called the XPoNential Music Fest sponsored by a Philly based member supported station called WXPN.
I was delighted to hear and see someone embodying a treasured cinematic icon- Forrest Gump. I approached ‘Forrest’ (a.k.a Paul Dengler) and began a conversation as I told him what his movie meant to me. I have long equated it with one of the major reasons I named my clown persona Feather and why I give out feathers at my workshops and presentations. I speak about it as the eternal question of whether things happen at random or are (in Yiddish-beshert) ‘meant to be, just like Forrest always seemed to be at the right place at the right time in history for things to happen as they did.
Listen in to some of our conversation about the spiritual messages in the movie and the way this artist/musician/singer songwriter became the man who uttered the classic and oft quoted phrase: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Chocolate being my drug of choice, I appreciate that!
Paul shared that he has “been Forrest Gumping for 18 years now, 14 years with Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurants since 2000. His wife had convinced him to enter a look alike contest in Beaufort, South Carolina, in 1996 (at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Festival — put on by the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce.) He won!
We were musing about the take away points from the movie:
“The feather at the beginning of the movie is jam packed with meaning…it ties back to Jenny’s childhood prayer for God to turn her into a bird so she could fly far, far away from all her troubles. The movie begins with the feather and ends with the feather, and the entire film has lots of bird symbols through out (all connected to Jenny). At one point, Jenny is on the balcony, thinking about jumping off and committing suicide. The song that is playing in this scene is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird song (she wants to fly above her troubles, but she doesn’t know how). The feather is also a symbol for Forrest: he floats on the winds of life, yielding to where the Spirit takes him. Forrest prays that prayer with Jenny for her to be turned into a bird, and then his whole life is used to make that prayer come true. He never gives up on Jenny. He loves her with an unfailing love, and that love ultimately helps Jenny find her wings…and find healing. Jenny, Lt. Dan, and Forrest are each broken people, each in different ways (also true of Bubba and Mama, too — and each of us). Forrest says that he’s not a smart man, but that he knows what love is. Love, and faith, and friendship…that’s what the movie is all about. I’m writing a little book about all this. It’s called, Pray For Shrimp (A Forrest Gump Impersonator’s Guide to Gumption). It’s just 75 short pages of the wisdom you can learn from Forrest Gump.”
“The number 75 is significant in that is both Forrest Gump’s IQ, and it’s the year that Forrest and Lt. Dan have their shrimping success. So, 75 both represents Forrest’s limitations and those limitations being overcome through faith and friendship. For the first six months, Forrest and Lt. Dan only catch enough shrimp for a shrimp cocktail. Lt. Dan and Forrest are frustrated by this. They are discouraged and almost give up, but then Lt. Dan suggests that Forrest start praying for shrimp. The next scene is Forrest at the Four Square Gospel church, praying for shrimp and singing in the choir. God seems to show up in the midst of the hurricane in the following scene. All the other shrimp boats get destroyed, but their shrimp boat is the only one left standing. Then shrimping becomes easy for them, and they strike it rich with Bubba Gump Shrimp. Lt. Dan then takes some of their Bubba Gump money and invests it in that fruit company (Apple). As a result, they become “gazillionares” when the computer first hits the market in the 80’s. 75 is the number of Forrest,s limitation, but those limitations being overcome through faith, hope, and love. “
When we finished our conversation, he invited me to find him later on and he promised to show me a magic trick. Of course, I couldn’t resist. He was standing under his umbrella, speaking with two women. I asked him to make good on his invitation. He smiled and pulled from his suitcase, a tri-fold program from the event, feathers flying as he did so. I asked if I could have one and he allowed me to bring it home with me. He then asked us if we believed he could cut a hole in the brochure that would be large enough for everyone at the festival to walk through. The others were skeptical, but I knew he could do it, and because I believe in miracles, I said yes. He asked each of us to close our eyes and think of a miracle we wanted to call into our lives and then write one letter on the paper that represented that intention. As he made several strategic cuts in the paper, he spoke about the scissors being the faith that cuts through our doubts. By the time he was finished, he had made what looked like a zig zag paper chain that when expanded was indeed large enough for a full grown adult to walk through! I teared up as he placed the garland around my neck, just as the Dalai Lama had draped a katah (white silk scarf) on me when we met and I interviewed him in 2008. When I got home, I placed it on my altar along with the katah.
If memory serves, this quote relates to the orthopedic shoes Forrest wore in childhood. “My mama says they were magic shoes. They could take me anywhere.” I am grateful that Forrest’s magic shoes brought him to my neck of the woods.