When I was a little girl, my family and I watched The Wizard of Oz on television every Thanksgiving weekend. In this age of instant gratification, it is lovely to remember the eager anticipation of seeing someone in person whom you have missed (Facetime is NOT face-to-face) or a beloved film for which you had to wait every year. In the supposedly developed world, people who serve in the military or are in long-distance relationships still experience this, but the blessing and curse of technology has largely rendered us a now-or-now society. What a shame!
I ADORED The Wizard of Oz, not just the movie, but the experience of watching it with my often far-too-busy parents. In particular, it was an experience I shared with my mother -- in part, I have come to realize, because the story expressed many of the metaphysical beliefs she held. Talking about the movie together was an easy way for her to help me understand them.
"So, it was all a dream?" I asked, the first few times I saw the movie as a tiny girl. "She was asleep the whole time? She never even went to Oz?"
"Yes," my mother would tell me. "It was all dream. Oz was in her head, and all the people in Oz were the people she saw around her every day. She thought she was away on a scary adventure, but all she had to do was wake up to realize she was home with everyone she loved all the time."
How I loved that!
But there was one part of the whole experience that I always found a bit confusing. My mother was both fundamentally metaphysical and deeply materialistic; a creative genius and a fearful pragmatist. Furthermore, everything in my mother's purview became a teaching moment. Watching The Wizard of Oz was no exception -- an opportunity to instill her most fundamental teachings in her child.
So, in addition to making sure I understood the whole dream aspect, she also wanted to be sure that I really got that movies were not real either. My dad made movies and so did she -- he as an actor, and she as a costume designer. It was our family business, and therefore one which I not only needed to understand as any parent might teach their child about their legacy, but also because my mother was dedicated to making sure that I knew, with every fiber of my being, that movie stars were just people like everyone else. It was critical to her, probably her most important teaching, that I know in my heart that I was no more special than anyone else -- even if my family and I were often (confusingly) treated so differently, so deferentially.
To bring this home, she peppered our film watching with anecdotes about the actors in it. For many years, this made an already surreal movie even more confusing. When she told me that we had met the Scarecrow on Rodeo Drive a few weeks earlier, I didn't get it. I didn't remember meeting a Scarecrow -- and trust me, you'd remember meeting a Scarecrow on Rodeo Drive. She told me that she had designed the costumes for one of the witches, and wanted to tell me about the picture. But I just wanted to know about being a witch. The most confusing of all was that Dorothy's daughter was Liza Minnelli. For the life of me, I could NOT figure out how Dorothy, who clearly wasn't that much older than me, could have grown-up Liza Minnelli as a daughter! Frankly, it worried me a little. . .
These things often happened when we watched movies. When Funny Girl came out, we immediately went to see it, not only because my father ADORED Barbra Streisand and would have gone to see her sing the phone book, but because the Brices were among our dearest family friends. Fanny and my father, fellow art collectors, had started the first modern art museum in Los Angeles together. Fanny's son, Billy, was my father's best friend, and a well-known Abstract Expressionist painter in his own right. Well, like everyone else (including the character of Fanny Brice), the first time I saw Omar Sharif, I was smitten. Those eyes!!! So I was just dying to know whether Omar Sharif was Billy's dad. How cool would that be? Maybe I'd even get to meet him! I asked Billy, who was a tad baffled, until my dad winked and told him that we'd just seen Funny Girl. Oh, yes, Billy sweetly affirmed, Omar Sharif is my dad. Which I never quite believed, to tell you the truth, because Billy looked not one bit like gorgeous Omar Sharif. . .
Thanks to my seminary dean, David Wallace, all of those sweet memories have been surfacing. Last Saturday, I had the privilege of spending a large part of my Saturday afternoon with the David and with Diane, the spiritual director of the seminary I had been attending, but from which I had felt I needed to withdraw in protest of a decision made by the administration with which I vehemently disagreed. The fact that both of them took so much time out of their weekend to speak with me meant more than I can express. I had reached out to them because, throughout the previous week, many of my classmates and other deans had urged me to reconsider my withdrawal. The plan was for the three of us to talk that through together. It was a grueling, powerful, grace-filled, teary, deeply illuminating afternoon during which I was asked to look deeply into my heart and see whether I could open it to healing for myself, and for all of the individuals involved. They asked me to take the weekend to pray about my decision.
At the end of the phone call, I asked what it would take to return. To which David replied, "I believe that all you need to do is put on your red shoes."
After getting off the phone, I headed out for a hike. It had been raining all week in Austin, and I was eager to enjoy the sunny day. I went down to the river and proceeded to hike along the river, only to find myself unable to cross easily when I needed to, often slipping and sliding on the stones that were now covered in water. It was slow and careful going. Not a leisurely hike by any stretch of the imagination.
At one point, I came upon a family on the trail. I was listening to music on my headphones, so I could not hear the conversation. I could only see it. The father was yelling at the mother, who had stopped dead in her tracks. He strode on angrily followed by the younger of their two little girls. But the older one was torn -- she wanted to run ahead, but she was worried about her mother. So, she stayed behind. As I passed them, I tried to send all four of them love, while not letting on that I had seen anything.
Finally, I reached a place where I could go no further. Not nearly as far as I wanted to go at all. But I had to turn back. About five minutes after I did, I passed the same family -- in the same configuration -- father and younger daughter ahead, with the miserable mother and older daughter behind. The tension was palpable, and heartbreaking. Praying as I walked past them, the words came to me, "Hold the contradictions." Huh?
"Hold the contradictions."
That was my answer -- to whether I would return to seminary, to how I would return, to the healing I hoped would begin to happen, to moving forward in my life. As I prayed and hiked my way back to my car, I could literally feel all the contradictions in my two hands, like not-so-blind justice holding the scales of right and wrong, pain and hope, love and fear, anger and loss, confusion and clarity.
When I got home, I Googled the phrase. Only one result came up -- a Class Day speech at Stanford by the well-known author and neuroscientist, Robert Sapolsky, who avers that to take the impossibility of something as the very proof that it must be possible is the ONE AND ONLY human behavior that can be found nowhere in the animal kingdom. To up the ante, according to him, when something becomes a human moral imperative, the more difficult that impossible imperative is to accomplish, the more important it is to us. He cites Helen Prejean's exhortation that the harder something is to forgive, the more it must be forgiven.
What Professor Sapolsky doesn't say (or maybe even believe), but what I know, is that this is the Divine Alarm Clock going off in every one of us, chiming: WAKE UP. And that no matter how many times we hit the ontological snooze button, holding those contradictions IN ORDER TO WAKE UP is perhaps the most fundamental part of our healing journey. It's called Forgiveness. This is the human evidence of the DNA of the Divine double helixed into our souls.
This is Love In Action.
Sapolsky closes his talk by saying, "At the end of the day it is irrevocably impossible for one person to make a difference in the world, and yet the more impossible it is, the more every one of us must make a difference.” It brought to mind the words of Paolo Coelho from The Alchemist: “That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”
That night I went to sleep and invited the alchemy of holding the contradictions of the past few months in humility and hope. When I woke up the next morning, I recognized that holding the contradictions is living in the disturbed soil where the wildflower seeds of an ethics of love take root. We do that when we are willing to move beyond any entrenched thinking into the language of the heart. When we pour in Truth through the flood tides of Love, healing happens. I had been pleading for the board and administration to make this a teaching moment and had railed against all the missed opportunities as I have perceived them. BUT. What do I need to be taught? AND. What am I willing to learn? Am I willing to show up in the radical honesty, transparency, willingness and humility, the I don't know/let's do this together for which I begged the board and administration? I saw that, if I left the answer would be no. If I stayed, I was saying yes.
I saw that the red shoes I really need are forgiveness and love. But the even bigger Dorothy metaphor seemed to be: SURRENDER! Surrender the judgment, blame, defendedness, old narratives that got me/us here in the first place by holding the contradictions and inviting healing. If we are all here to heal the lie of separation, then for me, staying is being part of the solution; leaving is perpetuating the problem.
In perhaps his most beloved poem, the 13th-centurySufi poet Rumi wrote,
I'm pretty sure that Rumi's field is ablaze with wildflowers, so I decided to put on my red shoes of forgiveness and love, surrender to the flying monkeys and wicked witches sure to be fearbombing me, and rejoin my fellow cowardly lions, tin woodmen and scarecrows on our yellow brick road to find that glorious field in this Technicolor movie of this moment of my life. By Tuesday, I was once again a member of the Class of 2016.
Cue the Hollywood ending.
The monkeys AND green-faced scary Margaret Hamilton AND the disappointing man behind the curtain had all made their presence felt within 24 hours. Then that weekend, almost everyone I hoped would be a fellow wildflower fell asleep in a field of poppies.
Love and forgiveness. Hold the contradictions. I was praying those words for dear life.
On top of it all, for the past six weeks I've been living either in an antiseptic hotel or a dusty, loud, workmen-filled construction site here in Austin. People think life on the road is glamorous. Maybe someone else's is. . .mine often just feels lonely. But when I began writing this blog I knew that soon -- soon, I would be heading home!!
And then I got an email at 2AM when I couldn't sleep: My landlord needs to sell my wonderful home of the past 2 1/2 years. . .and I need to be out by June 1!!!
The fact that I am only scheduled to be home for three of those weeks due to speaking engagements and convention appearances, and that during those weeks I am called to jury duty, made that already stressful news even more stressful. As I processed the news and prayed to know my next steps, it became absolutely clear to me that, despite the loneliness of the road, the road right now is where I live. I need to sell off the excess, store only what I love, and let go of the idea of a permanent home for a while, as I follow the yellow brick road of my dream of being of service and helping others through my talks and books and ministry. But with that realization, I understood that I had to find a safe stable home for my beloved 15-year-old Dalmatian, Jackson, who is too fragile for my peripatetic life.
Knowing something is right doesn't make it easy. My stress level, which was already high, became unquantifiable. Praying, square breathing, surrendering, holding the contradictions, leaning on the Divine -- I've been doing it all!
So at first it seemed a bit strange that The Wizard of Oz once again popped into my head. I thought of David, of my mother, of the Scarecrow on Rodeo Drive, of Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland. I thought of the red shoes. And the conversation between Dorothy and Glinda:
Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
Glinda: You don't need to be helped any longer. You've always had the power to go back to Kansas.
Dorothy: I have?
Scarecrow: Then why didn't you tell her before?
Glinda: She wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
Scarecrow: What have you learned, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Well, I—I think that it, that it wasn't enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em — and it's that — if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?
Glinda: That's all it is!
Scarecrow: But that's so easy! I should've thought of it for you -
Tin Man: I should have felt it in my heart -
Glinda: No, she had to find it out for herself. Now those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds!
Dorothy: Oh! Toto too?
Glinda: Toto too.
Glinda: Whenever you wish.
Glinda: Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, 'There's no place like home'.
Sometimes help comes in the form of seemingly silly ideas. This was mine: I decided to take a page out of my mother's book of life lessons in the form of a costume that I hope will help me hold the contradictions of my life, walk where I am led during this next stage of my life, and have my foundation remain love and forgiveness. Which is to say, I bought a pair of $27 Keds (the kind I would have wanted when I was a kid -- not the pointy-toed ones my mom made me wear).
I bet if you think about it hard enough, you'll figure out what color they are. . .
Turns out, the lessons I'm learning now are the same lessons my mom and The Wizard of Oz were teaching me when I was a little girl. Turns out, too, it's just as confusing now as it was then. The Scarecrow is really an actor I met one day, and Dorothy was married to a famous movie director and their daughter sings. The people we want to think of as enemies are just people like us who love things differently than we do, but love them nonetheless. And the institutions we want to rail against are really made up of individuals, who, like us, are made up of love.. And all of this is a dream from which we can wake up if we close our eyes, tap our heels together three times, and think to ourselves, "There's no place like home." But only -- only -- when we realize that home is exactly where we are right now. And where we are right now, no matter how stressful, anxiety-provoking, graceless and unfair it feels, is exactly where we need to be.
So, I've created a new daily practice of joy during this difficult time. Every day, I put on my red shoes of forgiveness and love, walk where I am led, and surrender to the contradictions I am holding. All while trusting that, wherever I end up living out of my suitcase, whatever the healing I hope for looks like, and whoever my companions end up being on my journey. . . home is always always where my heart is.
Which is to say, I am already home.
And so, of course, is Jackson.
Last night, an anxious week of letting go and leaning, praying, loving, and trusting blossomed into healing when Elaine and Marc Price, the lovely couple who rescued my beautiful boy 14 years ago and hand nursed him back to health after he was mauled almost to death by wild dogs, offered to come back into Jack's life. They have invited him back into their home, and invited me to be a part of his life whenever I am in New Mexico. There are no words to describe the relief and joy and gratitude I feel for them and for this proof that life always takes us full circle home.
Glinda: Now those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds!
Dorothy: Oh! Toto too?
Glinda: Toto too.
Yes, Toto too!!
#loveandforgiveness #myredshoes #walkwhereiamled #thisonebravelife #gratefulgratefulgrateful