A long, long time ago (13 months ago), in a land far, far away (the Hollywood hills), I experienced one of the most common but nonetheless extraordinary forms of magic there is (having my very first conversation with a woman who was once a stranger but is now a good friend).
Anyway– this woman and I were having the kind of conversation you can only have at night, when everything is very quiet. What started soft and slow, like the sunset, quickly gained pace and plunged down into something much deeper. We began to spill out pieces of our souls to one another, the words flowing so fast that some barely landed before we were on to the next but we still felt they had been seen in a way that was special.
And then she said something to me that was one of those crystalizing moments where time slows down and you know that what’s happening you will remember forever, even if you don’t know why.
“Oh man,” she said looking up at me, as if she just had just figured out a great mystery, “You’re Dorothy.”
“I’m Dorothy?” I said, confused.
“Yeah,” she continued, “You’re Dorothy. And you’re on the yellow brick road. Only you don’t know what your yellow brick road is yet.”
I nodded as if I understood though of course I did not.
“Then again,” she added, “it’s not as if Dorothy knew what her yellow brick road was either. She just knew she had no choice but to follow it. So it’s not that you don’t know it. It’s that you haven’t seen yours yet.”
“I’m Dorothy,” I repeated, like saying the words out loud would bring clarity.
“Yes,” she said, “and you’re on the yellow brick road.”
Well. It has taken some time but I feel like I’ve at last arrived to the truth she shared with me so many moons ago. I finally feel like Dorothy on the yellow brick road. Not just because I’m in London but because I’m on a different path and I really don’t know exactly where it’s taking me.
On this road, I go back and forth between loving and hating every step I take, between having utter bliss and what feels like all-consuming fear . Like Dorothy, I am often homesick. I find myself wondering where it is I’m going, where this road leads, and even why the hell I decided to follow it in the first place.
So I decided to go back to the beginning– to the Wizard of Oz, the story itself. And in that story, I found lessons so beautiful and profound I couldn’t help but feel compelled to share. It is chock-full of things that convey complexity in such a simple way that it almost goes unnoticed. Which, of course, is the genius of it. It’s so so simple it’s almost complicated. Without further adieu, here are a few of the many lessons I’ve learned on the road.
1. The journey of life is circular (just like yellow brickroad itself)
Do you remember what the very beginning of the road looked like? (No? See above.) The yellow brick road is not straight. In fact, it appears to go in circles, though those circles are moving you forward. At the start, the rings of the circle are very tight and close together, which makes it easy to see where the road is leading you. There’s comfort in this– the certain knowledge that you are on your way somewhere. You can look down and see it with your own two eyes! Well- that doesn’t last forever. The rings get bigger and bigger and at some point, we can’t see where they go. We can’t make out the bigger shape anymore. All we can see if what is at our own feet and sometimes as we trudge along without anything indication of what’s up ahead, it feels like we aren’t going anywhere.
But like Dorothy knows, the only way to arrive somewhere is to continue. Eventually you will come to a place, even though you’re not sure what that place will be. So when the road is hard and seems to stretch before us endlessly, it’s best to carry on, one step at a time. And the road, as Dorothy learned, is not meant to be walked alone. You must take your heart, your courage, your brain, and of course your friends- furry or not.
2. It’s important to stay soft, with a heart that is breakable, or else you will lose what makes you human.
Did you know the Tin Man was human once? It’s easy to forget- after all, he is made of tin. But as he loses pieces of himself, limb by limb, he replaces them with the prosthetics, until he is all tin, at which point he discovers he no longer can love.
There are a lot of people in the world like this– who have lost pieces of themselves and chosen to replace them with something plastic, rather than live with the wound. They are still alive but they are often empty because they decided it was better to eat their own heart rather than risk it getting hurt again.
When I was a child, I was constantly told that I was so sensitive. People said this to me like it was something to be ashamed of, something that needed to be fixed. And indeed, for years, I felt like something was wrong with me- maybe I was too sensitive.
Then I learned to love my sensitivity. Don’t get me wrong- I did need to toughen up from who I was as a child, and I have. (Some things can only be learned from experience of actually walking that path, am I right, Dorothy?) But much like our four travelers, I realized that this thing, which had once seemed like some sort of flaw, was actually something that made me great. I have not, and I never will, abandon my sensitive heart. My heightened sense of sensitivity makes me better at my job and better at being a kind and compassionate human. It makes me who I am and I love who I am.
For the first time in a long time, I find people saying this to me again– “you’re so sensitive!” (Hello, English people of the school of stiff upper lip. How are centuries of emotional repression going for you?) I know some of them think me foolish for having so many emotions, for having heart that is so open. But given the choice between that and doing what they do (destroy their own heart before someone else ever gets the chance), I choose openness. I choose openness even though it means I risk devastation. Because between nothing and devastation, I’ll take devastation– because the only way to have a heart is to risk it breaking. And I would rather feel pain than nothing at all. When people tell me I’m sensitive, I smile at their layers of tin but usually don’t say much. I won’t apologize for having feelings. I won’t apologize for caring deeply. I won’t apologize for being human.
It is true that having a heart will leave you vulnerable. But to not have a heart is so much worse- for then you are left with an empty hole inside you, a haunting quiet where something alive was supposed to be.
3. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best.
The biggest lesson I’ve taken from the Wizard of Oz originally came about in the examination of story structure. (#writerstuff) At the end of the movie, Dorothy destroys the Wicked Witch by throwing water on her. Seriously. She has spent the entire film trying to solve this problem and suddenly it is done- in one swift throw. As a writer, part of me wanted to yell, “Really? Water? All it ever took to destroy this woman was a bucket of water, which conveniently happened to be right there?”
It was such a ridiculously simple answer that it almost seemed like cheating, or worse, lazy storytelling. But now I think, ‘No, of course it was water. Water purifies things. Water washes things away.’ It isn’t bad writing at all. Its genius comes from the acknowledgement of the oft-overlooked simplicity of problem solving- we are usually so busy creating intricate and contrived ways to fix the situation that we fail to see the obvious solution right before our eyes.
I know I’ve done it. I’ve had problems in my life I dealt with in every possible way except by actually dealing with them. So when Dorothy throws the water on the witch, she can do so only because she has finally stayed still long enough to confront the wickedness, warts and all. It’s so simple that it’s difficult: to fix your problems, you have to have the courage to face them for what they really are.
Then you have to pick up that bucket of water and toss it like hell. You have to let the water cleanse what you couldn’t. You have to let water wash away the dirt and the grim in your life, even if the only dirt and grim is on you and the water is your own tears and all you can do is let them fall, to at least acknowledge what you feel. Or maybe the water is your shower and right now, it’s just enough to wash the day off and know tomorrow you get to start anew.
Problems we don’t recognize don’t go away. They only grow. Feelings have to be seen and felt and experienced because it is only then they can be sent on their way. So face them head-on. You don’t have to be armed with anything, except the willingness to look at something for what it is. When you identify it, you can deal with it, and when you have a bucket of water, metaphorical or otherwise, you can change it. After all, water has a way of washing things away. Go ahead and let it.