My favorite scene from “The Wizard of Oz” comes near the end of the story, when Dorothy and her new friends present the witch’s broomstick to the wizard, ask him to make good on his promise to fulfill their wishes, and he … hesitates.
He doesn’t know what to do. And as he goes into his fire-and-brimstone routine to try to buy some time and come up with a plan, little dog Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal …
A great and powerful wizard? No. Just a person.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” he bellows.
Oh, but we must! We should pay a lot of attention to the person behind the curtain. Because the person behind the curtain is you and me.
We all try to act like wizards of our lives; it’s our nature. We become practiced at smoke-and-mirrors. We try to act smooth. On the surface, we like to appear that we have it all together.
We confine conversations to the surface level so that no one will see the real person below, the one who is confused, struggling, vulnerable, trying to get by much of the time just like everyone else.
We hide behind our curtains.
But here’s the thing: Our curtain space is very small. As long as we hide there, our lives become very small, no matter how much smoke and fire we send out.
Until we pull back the curtain and let others see us, we can’t help them. Nor can they help us.
And that, to me, is the really interesting part of the story.
The scarecrow, the tin man, the lion and Dorothy set off for the Emerald City thinking that they lack something important. In fact, they already have it in great abundance. And they use it along the way.
The scarecrow outsmarts the witch. The tin man has so much love that he puts himself at risk to help Dorothy. The lion has the courage to march into the witch’s castle, even as his knees shake. And all the while, Dorothy has the power to go wherever she wants.
They just haven’t realized it yet.
They think the wizard can give them these things, but they eventually come across an unexpected truth: The wizard is the one who’s lacking in all the things that they already have.
The witch is his problem, too, but he doesn’t have the brains to figure out what to do. He lacks the courage to confront her. So he sends his four visitors on a suicide mission to eliminate her. We know this because when they actually bring back her broomstick, he’s taken aback and doesn’t know what to say. He didn’t think they’d make it out alive.
What a heartless wizard!
And then, the ruse is up. Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals he’s just another person, no better than them. Only when he has stopped pretending can he actually start helping them.
He tells them that they already have everything they desire, right inside of them. He points out that they are more than they imagine. They need to recognize it, embrace it, act on it.
And finally, he relinquishes his role as Wizard of Oz in order to take Dorothy home. No one will mistake him for a wizard there.
A great lesson, no?
We can’t really help anyone until we stop hiding and pretending. Great and powerful? Yes we are. But first, we have to pull back the curtain and let others see us as we actually are. We have to be ourselves, in all our glory and all our messiness.
That takes courage. And heart.
And it can change everything.