Lessons from the Yellow Brick Road

Published October 22, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Every time I get ready to plan my Hero’s Journey unit at school, my mind turns towards three films in particular: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and The Wizard of Oz.   And “story” just happens to be the monthly topic for our Soul Matters group at church, so it really seems important for me to pay attention to “story” in my life.  Today, in particular, I’ve been feeling pretty “Ozzy” as I sit and think about my path work, especially after re-reading my last post.   Recognizing that it’s my own fears that stir the inner conflict with my Shadow self, it seems as if what I’d most like from the Wizard of Oz myself would be to help me find my courage.

It’s interesting that Dorothy meets up with three characters along the Yellow Brick Road, all of whom express their desires for the same things that Dorothy herself needs.  It is also interesting that the man in Kansas (Professor Marvel) who pointed out that Dorothy needed to go home because she’d hurt her family is transposed into the Great and Powerful Oz of the Emerald City.  He points out to Dorothy (in Kansas) and to her companions (in Oz) what they should have been able to see for themselves all along.

The Scarecrow claims that he doesn’t have a brain, but the Wizard points out that he had one all along.  Even though he exhibits cleverness in outwitting the apple trees, the Scarecrow just didn’t recognize his own intelligence without some outward symbol to “prove” its existence- a diploma.   When Dorothy took off with Toto to get away from Miss Gulch, she really wasn’t using her brain.  She was simply reacting without thinking.  She didn’t think about the impact her running away would have on those who loved and cared for her, particularly Aunt Em.

The Tin Woodsman claims that he can’t feel anything because he doesn’t have a heart.   The tin smith who built him forgot to put one in, but he is the most sentimental of the three companions.  Like the Scarecrow, he needs some outward symbol to prove that he has just as much love and caring as anyone who has the physical, blood-pumping organ that he desires- something tangible that he can look at as a reminder.  And so he is given a heart-shaped testimonial with a built in clock that ticks.   Dorothy’s running away from home and hurting those who love her can be seen as almost heartless.  She is more concerned with and seems to care more for herself and her dog than her family.

And then we come to the Cowardly Lion.  He claims to not have any courage, but throughout their journey, he exhibits great amounts of bravery when the need arises.  All he needs is a medal from the Wizard as an outward sign of his courage.  As this relates to Dorothy, it takes more courage to face our problems than it does to run away from them.

Brains, heart, courage— thought, feeling, bravery– that’s what I need to integrate on my own path.

When the Wizard leaves Oz, he puts the three in charge of the land in his absence.  Their combined talents — the wisdom to know the right thing to do for the people, the compassion to think about the needs of the people, and the courage to actually do what is best for the people– might create a land of peace and harmony.  Of the three, though, I see courage as the one of the three that would keep things in proper balance.  It’s one thing to KNOW what’s right, another thing to FEEL what’s right, and an entirely different thing to actually DO what is right.   Of the three, I think that the Lion is the key to that balance.  For harmony, all are required.  To be brave but not know what to do or not care about others would be futile.  To know what to do but not care about others or not have the courage to carry out what’s right is also futile, as is wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve but not knowing the best course of action or having the guts to do anything about those one cares about.  And so with the “healing” of her friends, Dorothy is also “healed”.  She learns about looking for her heart’s content beyond her own back yard, but only after she saw from her friends what it meant to use one’s brain, heart and courage.  Only then could she return home.

I want to be “home”– balanced.

So… it’s that balance that I need to work on within myself as I roam through this desert.  Hmmm… interesting that Oz was also surrounded by a great desert.  Perhaps, like the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Lion, I need reminders of my inner gifts.  I shouldn’t NEED reminders, but I guess they serve as affirmations in times of feeling lost or alone.   Like the Scarecrow’s diploma, my degrees in my office remind me of how I am able to use my brain.  Like the Tin Woodsman’s testimonial, pictures of my children are a daily testimony of my love for them, and gifts they have given me are reminders that they love me in return.  However, what I do not seem to have on display are any signs of my courage.   I do know that I HAVE courage– I’ve made several trips through Hell and have managed to survive– but what I don’t see on a daily basis is any outward symbol on display.   The Lion continued to wear his medal so that he wouldn’t forget– where’s my “medal”?

Maybe that’s why I still struggle with inner fears.  Maybe, like the Lion before he “found” his courage, I have a tendency to forget those times when I have been brave.   Its purpose would not be to sit and gaze at it all day.  I don’t stare at my degrees, and I don’t constantly sit and stare at the pictures of my children– but I do like having them there to notice from time to time.

It’s usually when I am feeling pretty stupid about something that I happen to go into my office and I’ll notice the diplomas.  Then I usually remind myself that I can use my brain, and pretty soon I’m feeling a bit more confident about thinking things out.   When I get out of the “God, I feel so stupid” mind-frame, an answer to the problem usually seems to present itself.

It’s when I am feeling sad and lonely– particularly since the final break-up of a long term relationship– that I do pick up the pictures and think about each child in turn, or I see something that one of them made for me or gave me as a gift, and then I remember that I always have them, no matter what.  Their love, and the love of supportive friends, will serve to remind me that I am never alone.  Remembering that I am loved will help to keep me from flitting about trying to find love in all the wrong places.  If I am ever meant to be with a partner, then it will happen– but not because I used loneliness as an excuse to go on the prowl.    I am open to the possibility of a partner appearing in my life one day, and that is enough.

I think that if maybe I came up with some kind of outward symbol of my personal courage, the inner struggle with my fears will be better dissuaded.   If, on days when I am feeling most fearful or riddled with conflict, I had something that my eye could happen to fall upon– like the diplomas and the pictures– it would help me in the same way.  So that is what I am going to concentrate on… creating a visible reminder.

Of the three Oz characters, the only “mortal” one was the Lion.  While the Scarecrow was physically torn apart by the winged monkeys, he didn’t die.  The Tin Woodsman stood for many years rusting away holding his ax mid-air, but he was still alive.  Only the Lion can grow old, get sick, and eventually die.  And if courage dies, the other two won’t be as strong because the balance will be broken.  However, the Lion is also the only one who has the power to reproduce and pass his legacy on to the next generation.  In that way, courage might never die, and balance might be able to be maintained.

I do find it also interesting that, of the three characters in the film, only the Lion has a song of his own.  While all three sing a version of “If I Only Had a _________”, the Lion is the only one to have a solo number when he sings “If I Were King”.

That’s what I need to do for myself.  Not only will it be helpful to have some kind of symbol as a reminder on days when I feel weak, but I have to keep courage alive.  I have to pass it on somehow.

And so I write this.  I write to remind myself to work to reclaim my inner courage, and I write to try to pass the idea of courage onward.   And perhaps re-reading this from time to time will be all the reminder I need to face my fears and make peace with them.

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