Gratitude without Magic
“There’s no place like home.”
The Wizard of Oz
There are witches, a wizard (sort of), and even flying monkeys but not a single turkey in The Wizard Oz, yet the film’s message seems appropriate for Thanksgiving.
While we generally associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, it didn’t become a national holiday until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday of every November should be a day to give thanks.
This means that, while the initial notion of Thanksgiving began with plenty as a celebration for a successful corn crop, Thanksgiving as a national holiday came about during a time of division, violence, and deprivation.
It’s easy to feel gratitude when things are good. Lincoln understood that it was even more important to find gratitude when things are hard, and the best way to do that is to see all that is already present in our lives for which we can feel grateful.
That’s the lesson that Dorothy learns as she’s plopped down via tornado into the world of munchkins and a talking Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion (oh my).
When in Kansas, Dorothy feels misunderstood and ignored, which is what prompts her launching into the most famous song of the film: “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” The lyrics indicate her longing to escape:
“Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me.”
In the song, this magical place doesn’t really need magic because clearly it’s perfect. Dreams come true. Troubles melt. How easy it would be to feel gratitude in such a place.
But, alas, when Dorothy does land in Oz, it’s atop a wicked witch whose sister vows to make her pay. The good witch is necessary because there are bad witches with soldiers, trees that attack by throwing their own fruit, and all sorts of hazards. It seems that the bad dreams one dares to dream also come true in Oz.
Fortunately for Dorothy, there are those magical ruby slippers slipped on her feet by Glinda the good witch. With a little skip and a big dose of optimism, Dorothy sets off on the yellow brick road to find the wizard who can send her back home.
He can’t, of course, and doesn’t. Rather, Dorothy must face yet more peril with new friends essential to her success. She despairs as the wizard floats off in his hot-air balloon without her, for now there is no getting back home. Only then does Glinda appear, telling her that she’s always had the power to get home.
When the Scarecrow angrily asks Glinda why she didn’t tell Dorothy sooner (and maybe spared him having the Wicked Witch of the West set him on fire!), Glinda responds “because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.”
What did Dorothy learn?
Home always had what she needed and plenty for which to feel grateful. Her aunt and uncle may have been busy and undemonstrative, but they loved her. The farmhands were too busy to hang out on a whim, but they also were protective and caring. Dorothy had been surrounded by love, kindness, and protection—pretty strong magic—all along.
In other words, “There’s no place like home.”
Thich Nhat Hanh has said that he wouldn’t want to go to a heaven as conventionally conceived: a place of no suffering. How would one appreciate all of the blessings and good if there were no comparison? We appreciate our health because sometimes we know what it’s like to lose it. We are grateful for plenty (and recognize what plenty is) when we have suffered deprivation.
We need the Wicked Witch of the West as much as we need Glinda.
When we can find our gratitude in the tough times—in the small, overlooked, undramatic, and even mundane things of life—we can be happy.
In other words, we can have a happy Thanksgiving.