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?
Hunk: Then why didn’t you tell her before?
Glinda: Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
Hickory: What have you learned, Dorothy?
What have you learned, Dorothy? I am reminded of those words from the The Wizard of Oz as we begin 2014, the 75th anniversary of that timeless motion picture. I have a vivid memory of the first time I saw it, in a theater on Broadway no less, with my mom and two younger brothers. As we emerged from the theater at the close of the movie, my brothers and I immediately assumed the roles of Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow, walking menacingly, robotically, or jerkily as the case may be, no doubt to the delight of Mom. (Which reminds me of Mark Twain’s quip that he caused his mother a heap of trouble growing up but he thinks she enjoyed it.) That experience, plus a tragically unrequited crush on the young Judy Garland, fixed The Wizard of Oz forever in my treasury of favorite early childhood memories.
But the The Wizard of Oz is more than a constellation of pleasant childhood experiences. And it is more than just a story for children. It’s a classic metaphor for life: We are all traveling down that yellow brick road, searching for our heart’s longing, suffering the various bumps and bruises and celebrating the joys and triumphs that we experience along the way. We meet mentors on our journey, and villains too, and they are sometimes indistinguishable. And when we arrive at the Emerald City, where we expect the Great Oz to meet our every need, we learn that the answers to life’s ponderings are not jealously guarded by some distant wizard but lie deep within us. And they are arrived at not through a sermon on the great truths but through the wise posing of the right questions.
“What have you learned?” Dorothy was asked, and what she discovered at journey’s end was 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.” Our heart’s desire—what we most passionately seek, and what we must learn for ourselves—is discovered in our own back yard, that is, in our soul. T. S. Eliot famously observed that “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” At the close of our exploring, we will discover that what we have sought is none other than the soul, our deepest self, which we now truly know for the first time.
So as we begin this new year, let us pause and ask ourselves, In my great journey of life, what have I learned? And looking ahead:What is there yet to discover?