Stand By Me, based off of Stephen King’s short story, The Body, is my absolute favorite movie in existence. Chris Chambers, an old soul portrayed by the equally amazing late River Phoenix, has always held a place in my heart, ever since I saw the movie for the very first time when I was just four years old. Over the last 20 years, I have lost count of how many times I have watched the movie, but I have always carried Chris Chambers with me, in my outlooks on life as well as in my writing.
Some extremely valuable lessons that I have taken away from his character include:
The beauty and importance of loyalty. Chris Chambers set the bar for the ultimate best friend. His loyalty to Gordy LaChance at just 12 years old puts most grown people’s ideas of loyalty in this day and age to shame.
We all want to run away sometimes. There is a scene where Chris and Gordy are sitting by a tree, keeping watch over their campsite while their other friends sleep. Chris has a heart-to-heart with Gordy about how he wishes he could outrun his family’s reputation and just start over somewhere where nobody knows him. This is the scene that always hit home the hardest for me.
You are not your older sibling’s mistakes. Chris had an older brother who went by the nickname of “Eyeball” Chambers. He wasn’t a very good person, and Chris often had to pay for his brother’s poor life choices in the form of being judged by teachers and other adults in his hometown of Castle Rock, because his older brother had done such a good job of tarnishing the family name. Chris didn’t let his brother’s poor reputation bring him down or use it as an excuse to be a shitty person.
It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you are going. Despite his family’s poor reputation and history of violence and abuse, Chris never allowed himself to be a victim. Despite everything he had been through, Chris still kept his moral compass and didn’t allow himself to succumb to other people’s poor expectations of him or fulfill their poor predictions of the type of person he was going to grow to become. He did have a slip up where he stole some money from school, but he did the right thing and admitted to it and tried to return it.
Don’t let your environment or the people around you bring you down. Despite all of the shit that the people of Castle Rock gave him because of his family’s poor reputation, Chris still managed to stay true to himself. He also understood the potential toxicity of the people who you choose to surround yourself with, and he knew how important it was to focus on the bigger picture and to keep yourself afloat, regardless of who you had to cut off.
Loving someone is not a good enough reason to stick around and potentially hinder their growth. Chris understood how important it was to rid yourself of toxic people and was a big enough person to admit that he himself might even be dead weight to the people he cared about. Chris was all for encouraging Gordy to take the Advanced Placement courses at school, even if it meant leaving him behind.
Encourage the ones your love. Chris was continuously encouraging Gordy to follow his dreams, even if he knew that Gordy’s success might create distance between them and be the catalyst for the death of their friendship. Chris knew what was really important. He understood the concept of loving someone enough to encourage their happiness, even if there was no way you could be present in it.
Stand up for what you believe in, at any cost. At 12-years-old, Chris Chambers risked his life by standing up to his older brother’s gang and defending Ray Brower’s body. He knew exploiting a stranger’s body for personal gain and positive recognition in the local newspaper was wrong. Chris stayed true to his moral compass and stood with a knife blade against his throat to defend his beliefs.
Keep the peace. Chris was always stepping in and trying to keep the peace between his friends. This admirable trait ended up leading to his own death in his 20s when he was stabbed by a stranger while trying to break up a fight.
Keep writing. The most powerful line of the whole movie, the one that has always resonated with me, and kept me going was delivered by Chris Chambers: “It’s like God gave you something, man. All those stories you can make up. And he said ‘This is what we got for you kid, try not to lose it’.” We could all use a Chris Chambers in our corner, encouraging us to pick up the pen.