About a month ago my mother-in-law got us a copy of The Wizard of Oz on blu-ray, and my wife and I decided to show it to our four year old twin daughters, but with some trepidation. What if they didn't like it?
For my wife and I this is a magical movie. Its magic is related to its scarcity in our youth, which made viewing The Wizard of Oz a special thing. In our pre-VCR early childhoods she actually had it on 8 track, and watching it can still locate the moments where the tracks ended and the tape had to be flipped. Like so many others of my generation, I made sure each year to catch the one time annually that it was shown on television. My sisters and I would gather in front of the television to repeat a ritual that began around the time of my first firm memories. (I probably saw the movie for the first time at the same age as my daughters did.) One year they showed a little documentary afterward, and it was amazing to see Margaret Hamilton as a sweet old woman talking about her characterization of the witch. Instead of ruining my suspension of disbelief, it made me love the film that much more.
Luckily for us, my daughters love it too, and they even jump in a big basket and pretend that they are taking a hot air balloon to Oz. We've already had a repeat viewing, rare for a full length feature film for my daughters.
While it makes me so happy to share the film with my daughters, I have not been prepared for the other emotions that it stirs up. The first time we saw it together, I lost it when Dorothy started singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." It is a real tear jerking song, and Judy Garland invests it with such emotion, but it had never made me cry before. Sitting there on the couch with my wife and daughters I was reminded of growing up lonely on the plains of Nebraska (as opposed to Kansas), my many years in the romantic wilderness, and those years spent wandering the academic landscape for a job warding off depression the whole while. For decades I had spent my time looking to be somewhere else, whether because I was in school preparing to fly, or I was in a crummy job or a place I liked but only employed temporarily. It took a long time for me to finally land, and the precariousness of my good fortune is something I remind myself of each day. My daughters fill me with wonder every day, the greatest reason for living I've ever had. Coming to the realization there on that couch was overwhelming.
As hard as "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" hit me, that was a light shower compared to the hurricane at the end of the movie. The scene when Dorothy has to say good-bye to her new friends used to really get me even when I was a child. Now? Positively deadly. She has to go home, but that means leaving behind the best friends she's ever had. This time around the crying started, and it was so intense that I started to get a sharp, stabbing pain in my forehead, which only happens when I am trying to keep from becoming a sobbing mess, a sensation I've had on maybe half a dozen occasions in my adult life.
In my years spent learning to fly or in my wanderings through the academic wilderness, I met a lot of truly amazing people. They're pretty much the reason I was able to survive. Between graduating college in 1998 and landing in New Jersey in 2011, I moved five times, and in each place met so many people who I still hold close to my heart. All those moves meant saying good-bye to all of them. As happy as my family makes me, I've yet to meet anyone like those people here. So I cried, weeping for the all the people I wish were near me but now live so far away. Like Dorothy, I was able to come home, but it meant abandoning my friends. It has not been easy, but I look into the eyes of my daughters, and I remind myself there's no place like home.