Ain't it the truth Dorthy. Ain't it the truth.
In one of my all time favorite films, The Wizard of Oz, we are treated to a wonderful morality tale that cuts to the quick of what it's like to live early into the twenty-first century. In short, the life scripts provided for Dorothy don't really pan out, and although the film has a Hollywood ending in which Dorothy is magically returned to the home she was trying to escape and everything seems fine, a close reading of the film reveals that it is where life deviates from the scripted narrative that the real magic is found.
In case you have forgotten, a synopsis of the plot goes like this.
Essentially, the film tells the story of a series of failed scripts. It begins with the depiction of the orphaned Dorothy who lives with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. Faced with a court order to have Dorothy's dog put down, the elderly couple offers no resistance and allows the spinster, Miss Gulch, to make off with Toto. Having no one to take up her cause, Dorothy runs away from a situation in which she has been left defenseless. In the bigger picture, a family is supposed to take care and to protect its members, but in this case Dorothy must fend for herself if she wants her dog alive. The adults on the farm are powerless, unable to live up to their societal roles as buffers to the societal injustice at large.
Once transported to the magical realm of Oz, Dorothy follows the advice of the munchkins who tell her that if she wants to get back home, she will need to seek out the aid of the Wizard in Emerald City, and to get there she must follow the yellow brick road. With this in mind, she embarks on a path which leads her on an incredible journey filled with disappointment of what was supposed to happen, wonderfully offset by the spirit of camaraderie and the joy of self discovery.
Despite the hokey ending, the Wizard of Oz is the quintessential "it's not the destination, but the journey" film. Above all, the yellow brick road is a path of the heart, a journey revealing the nature of the "somewhere over the rainbow" experience of the soul, casting doubt on the supposed gains that result from attaining a specific goal.
All in all, the narratives Dorothy follows end badly. She follows the yellow brick road to Emerald City only to be put off by the Wizard; she leaves on her quest to return with the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West only to discover that the Wizard is all smoke and mirrors with no magical powers at all; finally, just as she is to leave for Kansas in the Wizard's hot air balloon, it takes off suddenly leaving Dorothy behind. So much for the extrinsic rewards for accomplishing a task.
Nevertheless, the film is a classic because we witness the friendship and self-discovery that emerges between her and her three companions, the scare crow, the tin man, and the cowardly lion, along with some very catchy show tunes. As it turns out, the scare crow does have a brain, the tin man a heart and the cowardly lion is courageous, and it is their journey together with its trials and tribulations that gives evidence of the fact and not the bogus awards that the Wizard bestows, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, upon Dorothy's three friends near the end of the film.
Indeed, the magical return to Kansas that Dorothy brings about by clicking her heels together and reciting the trite cliché, "there's no place like home" rings false, like the end of a fairy tale in which we are told that everyone lives happily ever after, but in reality is the same as it ever was, with all the problems that motivated Dorothy to leave in the first place.
More and more, our own yellow brick roads leading us towards the supposed rewards suggested by our societal scripts are also not panning out. Blue collar workers struggle to find gainful employment as manufacturing has been transferred off shore, leaving them with little hope of realizing the American dream. University graduates live with their parents unable to make it on their own while paying off their student loans. Today, children are less and less likely to live with their biological parents as the traditional family has morphed into a series of temporary living arrangements. The post-war script that guided a whole generation of boomers: go to university, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, and save for retirement no longer offers a path that most people can or perhaps even want to follow.
What are we to do?
That's simple: follow the yellow brick road!
Like Dorothy, we never know what fate will bring our way. We may never get to see Emerald City, but that's OK. Life still can be lived in an authentic manner. We still can be true to our friends, our loved ones and to ourselves. We just need to realize is that the yellow brick road never ends. It is a road to be travelled to the end of our days, and we should take carry to journey down this road in a soulful manner, regardless of whom we might meet along the way.
If we bring forward our intelligence, tempered by empathy for each other, and bolstered by the courage of our convictions, we'll do just fine no matter where the road may lead and what surprizes lay in wait, as long as we stick together.