OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD


wizard of ozLately, my life has been one spent in and out of airports and hotels.  For a lot of my travel, I find myself in Kansas City because much of our work is based there and, on a personal note, because my best friend lives there.  As I’ve mentioned before, KC is one of those places I would have never imagined visiting and certainly did not expect to fall madly in love with. For so many reasons, it has become my second home.  I feel safe and comfortable there and so many aspects of the city are endearing to me – not the least of which, of course, are the people who I love there.  The first time I visited, years ago, I was perusing the newsstand in the airport in search of a snow globe to add to my son’s collection.  Unfortunately, I found nothing for him but was surprised by the abundance of Wizard of Oz paraphernalia.  It took me a minute to remember that I was,  in fact, in Kansas (well, really Missouri but just a little teeny drive to cross the state line).  I was in the land of tornadoes and Dorothy and witches and Oz.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence or maybe because of my affection for my new adopted home, I have found myself using Oz as a metaphor for my life.  I always seem to come back to the idea of Dorothy’s journey – her eventful path down the Yellow Brick Road – as one that I can relate to.  Surely, Frank Baum, when he wrote the novel, was intentional about the characterizations of Dorothy’s companions and how they symbolize the challenges we all face but, for me, they often take on amazing significance.

I spent the last five days in Kansas City, filled with its clever references to Dorothy and her crew.  It was oddly fitting because, over the past week, my journey took some important turns both personally and professionally. I love the idea of the yellow brick road and all the promise it offers.  As the munchkins advise, just follow it and you will find your answers.  You will find your way home.  For me, over the past year, I have found myself facing many forks, detours and roadblocks that created unexpected and enormously difficult challenges.  The familiarity of the yellow bricks and the path I had long been venturing on suddenly looked like foreign lands.  My companions, who had steadfastly linked arms and danced down the road at my side were now moving at a different pace, hearing a different beat.  We were out of step.  But, as we know, it is those roadblocks and those missteps that often take us to the places that we never expected to go and, maybe, needed to.  After all, when Dorothy begins her journey after her crash landing in Munchkin Land, the lane is filled with flowers and candy and all things sweet and wonderful in life.  She has a clear and simple objective – get to Oz and ask him to send her home.  She sees no other purpose in her travels.  She sees no other lessons that need to be learned.  She ventures out wide-eyed and hopeful.  Her challenges, from distractions to evildoers, all help her in ways she would never have imagined and she gains the greatest power she never knew she wanted or needed.

While I am not quite ready to conduct my annual retrospective on my life for 2013, I have been very intentional about being aware of my journey and to acknowledge my steps along the road this year – the highs and lows.  For sure, this year has been filled with joyful and enchanting strolls down the yellow brick road married together with some rather ugly and challenging detours into the petrified forest.  My experience is not unlike many others but, my life, in many ways, is quite different.  And, I, as a person, embody complexities that make some of my challenges even more difficult. My complicated combination of hard shell and soft gooey inside blended with layers and layers of turmoil tend to manifest into a mess at the worst possible times.    Just when I think I have chosen the right path to Oz, a lion jumps out of the forest, scares the crap out of me and sends me running back in the other direction.

This year has taught me a lot about myself and taught me even more about the power of connection – the indescribable tether that links us to others.  The invisible cord that tugs our hearts out of our chests and, often, catches us completely off guard.  For some people who are less complicated than me, they can feel these forces at play and they ride the connection like a zipline.  They squeal with delight as they slide their way from their own self into the arms, heart, smile, warmth of the other.  For me, it is something more like balancing on a tightrope.  I tiptoe ever so gently, holding my arms out to balance myself, praying that I do not slip and fall.  Yet, far too often, I lose my balance, my focus drifts, my head gets cloudy, the wind blows ever so gently and I am falling, falling, falling.  Sometimes there is a net beneath me, sometimes it is the cold hard concrete that breaks my fall.  Depending upon where I land will determine whether or not I go up again.  When my face smashes into the cement, I am unlikely to brave the trip back up to the connection line.  I am more likely to mop up the blood, paste on some band aids and move on.  I am not that brave.  I am not that daring.  Maybe, I am not that stupid.

Sometimes, there is a nice safety net that breaks my fall.  I bounce a little bit, perhaps ending up with some burns from the netting but I stand up mostly unbruised.  I’m intact.  I might be a little standoffish at first, hesitant to make my way back up because I know the fall is unpleasant but I’ll usually give it another shot.  I’ll play the odds, in hopes that the rope is stronger this time, that my balance is better, that the wind is still.  I comfort myself with the reassurance that the net will still be there should I stumble.

On very rare occasions, my fall is met by a warm, pillowy mattress.  A soft landing that braces me and absorbs the impact so I am completely safe and sound.  There is no fear of injury, no bruises to heal, no scrapes to clean.  I can stand right up again, tall and strong, and make my way back up to the line.  The tether is still as strong as ever and my resolve is unwavering.  That is uncommon for me but, when it happens, I am beyond grateful.  I am past happy.  I am in awe.  I marvel at it.  I try to step back and look at this phenomenon and study it from every angle.  How, perhaps might I have such a cushiony surface the next time I fall, I wonder?  And I realize that it is only with those rare few, on those very unique, very special, very meaningful occasions does the warmth and softness protect me.  I gain the understanding that I built the structure that afforded me that comfort but it only exists in certain settings.  It is not universally available.  I keep it safely guarded in the most magical of places.

Only the most powerful connections allow falls with such soft landings to occur.  These connections do not ensure that the line will not shake and that we will not lose balance.  Instead, they support us when we do topple over.  They catch us when we are no sturdy.  Those strongest of connections are more than just a tether.  They are mountains and layers and layers of foundation that sit safely, right beneath the line.  They carve out a canyon to securely contain our cushions, to protect us from our falls.  These connections are bolstered by building blocks that were put in place when you weren’t really looking.  All that hard work that came so naturally, that you did not need to pay attention to allows you to have that billowy fall and the subsequent catapult right back up.

This year, my journey down the yellow brick road taught me so many valuable lessons.  My visit to Oz was certainly not to find my way back home.  I did not need a heart or courage or brains.  And, I didn’t even need to have the Great and Powerful remind me that I already embodied those gifts.  I’ve already received that message.  I didn’t need to deploy my ruby slippers or find a hot air balloon to take me where I needed to go. This time, my trip to the Emerald City was to teach me about something very basic.

Love.

At 46 years old, this is not a foreign word to me nor did I believe it was a foreign concept.  It has always been a primary objective to live a life filled with love.  However, I realized this year that I struggled to understand the true complexities of love and the many forms of love.  My road, miles of which still lay before me, has been littered with messages and clues about how to love and be loved.  How to BE LOVED.  This year, I needed to learn how to accept love.

Like Dorothy, I venture out into the world with an open heart.  One that I know will get trampled on and busted up over and over.  I sometimes need to shut my doors, no longer allowing customers in, when I need to take inventory but, usually, I am quickly reopened for what comes my way.  I have an ease about opening myself up to others and offering them MY love.  However, it is with great trepidation that I use my oil can to loosen myself up and crack open my chest to allow the love to flow IN.  One might argue that there is no such thing as one-way street when it comes to love.  Maybe, in truth, I cannot actually love another if I cannot let them love me back and I am simply fooling myself.  Or, perhaps, I AM letting them love me back but am simply afraid to acknowledge and embrace that love.  After all, what would I know about receiving love?  The love that I thought was coming my way throughout my life from those who were supposed to love me the most was laced with cyanide.  It was delivered as a device to deceive me, to defeat me, to control me, to manipulate me.  It was never delivered as a framework to soften my fall or ease my burden or lessen my blows or, even, lift me up higher.

What I have learned about love this year is not only that is it complicated, but that it is a matrix.  Love is an interwoven fabric of complexities that when honored, respected and embraced, fills up many nooks and crannies of your being.  It gets to the place that you need it to go but can never reach on your own.  Love releases itself inside of you and, when you allow it to, scrambles out into the recesses of your self, your soul.  It moves beyond your heart and enters into your cells.  If, like me, you try to keep the incoming love locked up in a box, only to pull it out when you think you need it – if you try to control it, preserve it, monitor it, you will find that it disintegrates like ice meeting a hot flame.  It melts away right before your eyes.

Like the scarecrow, I have leaned how to use my brain more effectively.  And I continue to learn how to marry together my heart and my brain to create a dynamic duo that helps me to process through difficult and trying periods.  I am learning how to access the love that is blanketing me to help keep me warm on those cold nights when all is bleak.  When the world looks grey and dismal, I know there is a layer of protection from the elements.  Something soft and rich to slide into and feel safe and secure.  Something coursing through my bloodstream to protect me.

Life the lion, I am accessing my courage through my heart.  I am seeing myself through the eyes of those who love me.  I am looking deeply into theirs, swimming in my own reflection.  I am seeing myself etched into their skin, the tattoos of me, knowing that I have a place.  A permanence.  Making me feel strong and confident.  The love will push me forward.  Their belief makes me strong.

While I fight the good fight and remind myself that world is far from black and white and that the shades of grey in between are the pathway to the rainbow, I struggle with my constructs.  I have done a magnificent job of creating my boxes to escape to when needed.  I have my safe spaces, my vaults, my compartments in which I analyze each element of my life.  If it sits in a box, I know the lens through which to view it.  It loses dimension when it lives outside a box.  It doesn’t make sense.  There are no words, no images, no context to understand.  The yellow brick road has led me to a place where boxes are recycled and my cubicle walls are lowering, allowing me to find blends.  My matrix is blending.  The color is bleeding through.  My edges are blurring.  My heart is opening in all kinds of new ways.

The road to Oz was not paved with gold bricks this year.  It was bumpy, ugly, difficult and, by all accounts, dangerous.  I had many detours, shed many tears and struggled to find new pathways.  But, like Dorothy, I had what I needed to get it through it all.  I had a small but mighty force that was determined to make it to the end.  We might not have been there for the same reasons but we were committed to each other.  We taught each other about the power of our connection and we created soft landings  (that sometimes felt harder until you realized the mattress was there).

There are still 47 days left of this year but it is not too early to make some proclamations.  For once, I am going to end the year not wishing it away but grateful for its highs and lows.  Grateful for the lessons.  Intentional about my commitment to keep growing and keep learning and keep letting the love in.  When I pull back the curtain to reveal the little man pulling the strings, I will not be surprised by him.  I will be able to take comfort in the fact that I knew what I needed all along – I didn’t need him to give me any of it.  I set out to get it.  I didn’t know how I would get there, I could not imagine the richness of the experience.  I never knew how my heart would be poked, prodded, tugged or broken but I knew where I was heading and what I wanted.

For once, after so many years of regret and lament, I will end this year saying I am stronger, wiser and more fulfilled than when the year began.  And, I am overflowing with love.  I love.  I am loved.  I accept love.  I am now headed somewhere over the rainbow.

DREAMS


dreams2I am a dreamer – both literally and figuratively. I tend to wander off into my own head, imagining different realities for myself. I explore unknown places in my mind while I sit at my desk or am relaxing in the sun. And, when I close my eyes at night, I usually escape into a world where all my challenges and all the difficulties that would otherwise keep me lying awake are strewn out before me in landscapes and textures that are both real and tangible while also cryptic and complicated, offering me fodder to process and explore. Everything comes out in my dreams. So many issues are solved through the deeper meaning of my dreams. I usually remember them and they often stay with me for days weeks, months and even years.

So, when I woke up this morning, startled awake from a dream that was so real that all my senses were heightened, smelling the smells and seeing the sights in rich Technicolor, I knew I needed to pay attention. I knew there was something going on. I’ve been quietly and privately working through some issues in my mind for months and the disorientation I felt when I sat up in bed assured me that some headway was being made. I simply needed to navigate through it to figure out exactly what I was supposed to be paying attention to. There was no clear map. It was more like a scavenger hunt without the big X indicating the treasure. There were clues buried all throughout my dream and, as I revealed each one, more information would become available and the pieces would begin to fit together

Typically, I gently ease out of my dreams, resting in a transitional state nestling me between my dream and the light of day. I often fade in and out of dreams, sometimes returning to them and often finding myself intertwined between several different ones, all typically very real and seemingly literal. I do not dream about creatures with multiple heads, magical places or figurative symbols. My dreams include people, conversations and images that are all part of my everyday life. Because I believe that many of the people in my life appear in my life to help me sort through past challenges and to reinform me about lessons that might not have been absorbed earlier in life, I also believe that these individuals show up in my dreams as a representatives of others who have challenged me or pained me, serving as guides through my subconscious journey.

This morning I bolted from my bed after awaking from one of the most unusual dreams I have had in years and quickly started processing it. I needed to understand its meaning because it was so odd and so disturbing that I realized it had layers of complexity all lined up to provide me with a very important message. Even though it was still very early, I knew I had no chance of falling back asleep so I came downstairs and sat on the couch, beginning to piece together all the parts of the puzzle in an attempt to try to understand the deeper meaning.

My mother, dead for a year and a half, made an appearance in my dream and was as real and alive as she ever was. The color of her lipstick and the signature scent of her perfume permeated my senses, chilling me. I have not dreamt much of her since her death and, when I have, she was more of a faint figure in the background. I have had no interaction with her in my dreams. I might see her image or know she is around but she and I have not faced off in the time since her death. And, oddly, in this dream my husband and kids were non-existent. Often I will have dreams where they are not present but I know they exist. In this dream, they had no existence and, when I awoke, I was very disoriented. It took me a minute or two to get my bearings and realize the body next to me in my bed was, in fact, my husband and this was my house with my family. In my dream, I had been transported back to a time in my life before this family existed and, right there, was a critical piece of the story. There was only me, alone and trying to find a safe harbor. There were echoes of my life here in New Jersey (which, oddly, didn’t exist before my husband) but I was clearly on my own. The beginning of the dream, as I remember it, I had driven to Kansas City (which was apparently only a short 7 hour drive instead of the more realistic 18-20 hours) after attending what appeared to be either a Halloween or a Super Bowl party on a block in my town where several friends lived. (The actual location was quite significant to me after I thought about it because of the people I know who live there and what they represent in my life.) There was something bothering me at the party and I felt the need to escape so I got in the car, knowing there was only one place to go and that was to my friend in Kansas City. I felt confident that visiting him would alleviate my discomfort. As happens in dreams, the trip flew by and I was magically transported to his house, arriving midday on Sunday. It was summer and the sky was an odd midwestern color. There were no clouds and, as I have heard and even once seen, the sky had a tint of green which suggests that a major storm is nearing. My friend was pleasant, as was his partner, but he was surprised to see me and not sure what to make of my visit. I realized quickly that they were having a party which started with just a single friend sitting in their living room to, ultimately, having people streaming through the door by the dozens, all carrying trays of barbecue which I do not like. Rather than putting me at ease, everything about the setting was making me uncomfortable. I briefly talked with my friend to share some unpleasant news about another friend who had contracted a serious illness and noticed my lips quivering as I was talking to him, ready to cry. I was uneasy, feeling like I was again somewhere I did not belong. It was similar to the feeling that I had at the party earlier in the dream which prompted me to take the road trip in the first place. This overwhelming discomfort was underscored by the fact that I thought I was in a safe place – a place where I would otherwise feel very comfortable and secure. Instead, I felt out-of-place, unwilling to talk to the other party guests and quickly made my escape, saying over and over, “I really need to get back home.” Perhaps it was a Dorothy moment, trying to click my ruby slippers to return home and awake from the dream.

I left the house and proceeded to walk down the long front path, passing more and more guests as they made their way into the house. I remember feeling poorly dressed, looking shabby and embarrassed by my appearance. Perhaps that was one of the reasons I didn’t want to stay at their party. Seeing the endless streams of people flowing into the house added to the mounting tension. I was troubled for sure. I was conflicted. I desperately wanted to seek shelter in my friend’s home but I could not escape the feeling that I was an intruder – an interloper who was unwelcome and unwanted. I felt sad and scared. I got back into my car with my mind racing trying to figure out the best next move. I knew I should head home but I had a nagging feeling that it was not the right decision. I ultimately decided to head back hoping that the familiarity of my house would bring me some peace. On my way out of town, I stopped at a small grocery store to get some food and drink for the long drive but, all the while, my head was filled with thoughts, wondering why I had made such a long drive just to talk to my friend and why I was leaving just because he had other friends at his house. If it was so important that a call would not suffice, why wouldn’t I have just stayed? When I went into the store, I had a nagging sense that I had been there before and then found a set of car keys on a table in the small dining section of the store. I was perplexed why no one had cleared the table since it had to be at least hours since I was last there and I was curious as to whom the keys belonged. I focused in on that a bit and then swiftly moved around the store in search of sustenance.

Suddenly, my friend was there with me in the store and now it looked a bit more like a diner. There was a brick wall partitioning off the space with doorways at either end of the wall that opened into another section of the diner/shop. I wandered around the corner of the store into the section on the other side of the wall in order to see what other food items were available and there I first saw my mother sitting at a table, clearly enamored with a gentleman friend. The sight of her took my breath away and my already tense body became more rigid. I knew, in this moment, that I was a young adult. I could not have been more than 19 or 20. I was so alarmed to see her there, an odd juxtaposition of her unpleasantness in a location that typically makes me happy and peaceful. Besides, my mother never ventured far beyond New York City except to go to Florida so, to find her in Kansas City was highly out-of-order. Her presence there was dominating. What had been a very dull backdrop up to that point was now awash in color. Her bright red dyed hair glistened. Her makeup – always overdone and poorly applied – was as vibrant as ever with her lips bathed in a bright pink shimmer. I could not help but look at her because she stood out so boldly and I could feel the gravitational pull towards her.

I walked over to her table and stood before her, feeling very small. I had a familiar feeling from when I was a young girl, worried that I was in trouble. I realized instantly that much of my anxiety was rooted in my fear of her wrath after she realized I was gone, having dared to get in my car and drive all the way to Kansas City without first asking her permission. I was worried about the consequences of such a decision. I understood that my nagging feeling about having to get back was because I feared the consequences of my impulsive move. I felt trapped, without options. I knew my only course of action was to head home immediately so as to not get into any further trouble. But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but realize that the cat was out of the bag and the source of my angst was sitting right before me in this shop. She smugly looked at me and made several remarks which left me feeling nervous and tense. I went back around the corner of the store, grabbed my friend and asked him to come over to see my mother. I had the real-life consciousness to understand that he had never met my mother because I was estranged from her when we met and then she died so no opportunity presented itself. I wanted to capitalize on this because I needed him to see her in living color. I needed him to bear witness to the misery she put me through.

When I introduced him to her, she was cordial and pleasant as she often was when meeting strangers. She adeptly put on her show, smiling big, showing off her white teeth and pretending she was delighted to meet him. She introduced her gentleman friend to us who was busy adoring her and leaning across the table to press his head to her chest. It was an odd gesture but it was patent behavior for my mother’s suitors. Always insecure about her appearance, she surrounded herself with men who doted on her both emotionally and physically. My mother, not a great beauty, found men who desired her so she could feel better about herself and then withhold her affections from them – a strange game of cat and mouse that allowed her to always be in control.

I began to get emotional again and but mustered all the strength I had to not allow myself to cry in front of her. I was not willing to show any weakness for fear that the predator would strike and eat me alive. Throughout this, I continued to grow more fearful and felt even more alone. I held onto my friend’s arm as I needed someone to support me and comfort me and I looked to him to provide that. I wanted him to fight my mother alongside me but, of course, this was not his fight. And, while he might, in real life, capitalize on such a tantalizing opportunity, in my dream, he simply stood beside me, physically prepared to catch me should I collapse but merely acting as an observer. I glanced down at the table as I stood tall, trying to stand up to my bully and noticed that my mother and her friend had rented some adult movies. I was disgusted and embarrassed to see the DVDs and I found myself yelling at her, chastising her for her inappropriate behavior. Yet, throughout it all, I felt judged and small and this was simply an attempt to level the playing field.

As the tension heightened, ironically, I began to have clarity about the situation. I was awash with the realization that I did not have to accommodate my mother’s requests. I suddenly felt empowered and needing to escape her grip. I leaned in to my friend and said “I need to talk to you afterwards. I have something really important to tell you.”

And then I woke up.