She isn't coming yet, Toto. Did she hurt you? She tried to, didn't she?
And so begins the opening scene of The Wizard of Oz, a movie that captivated my generation and is still considered to be one of the most beloved stories of all time. Today's generation has Harry Potter, equally as mesmerizing. It doesn't really matter which story it is, as long as it serves a profound and enduring message in life -- one that directs, consoles, and compels us to carry on, often in the face of fear, anger, and grief. As children, we re-enact these stories in our bedrooms, on our playgrounds, and in our imaginations. Often as adults, we forget the lessons learned in these tales, but they are not gone, just buried deep in our unconscious minds.
When I watched The Wizard of Oz as a child, I truly believed I was watching Dorothy's life unfold. At about the age of 7 or 8, a thought occurred to me after watching it: If Dorothy's life was a movie, then my life could very well be a movie too. At the time, I even fancied that there was an audience out there watching -- or would be watching one day. It made me think about my story very seriously. I was fascinated by this idea that someone or something was watching me, rooting for me, crying for me when I was in pain, afraid for me when I was in danger, exasperated when I made foolish choices ... but most of all, hopeful and confident that I would persevere in the end. I never mentioned this theory to anyone, maybe for fear of being ridiculed, but I think it had more to do with it being a deliciously private insight, one that I intended to savor and employ. And then, of course, as the years went by, that idea faded and was slowly replaced with more immediate concerns, like how I was going to get my hair to look like Jennifer Hart's or whether I would get my driver's license on the first try (failures, on both counts!).
On an ordinary afternoon during high school, I was hanging out with one of my best friends, in one of those spaces in time when you feel safe enough to allow yourself to think out loud without regret.
"You wanna hear something funny?" I asked. "When I was little, I used to think my life was a movie. I mean, an actual movie." I looked over at her with a half smile.
Her eyes widened. "No way -- me too!"
"Yeah. It's like you're the star and everyone else is the supporting cast. They have roles to play in your movie."
"Yes! And it's like something is watching you from somewhere and seeing what you do with the obstacles that are in your way."
She nodded. Isn't it a wonderful feeling when you share something private with someone you trust and they immediately get you? This was one of those moments. After discussing it a bit further and teasing out some nuances in our individual theories, we got back to the more mundane conversation topics that tend to populate a teenager's thoughts. The spell was broken, but not forgotten.
Probably by now, some of you are thinking that we were talking about God. But we weren't. We both had an understanding of God, were raised as Catholics, and surely understood the parallels. But we weren't speaking of God in this conversation about our lives as movies. We were talking about our sense of agency in the world -- how we made meaning of our life stories, through the medium of our culture: film.
My thoughts, many years later now, have once again returned to this idea of our lives as epic stories -- movies, novels, or even songs. Stories that have enormous arcs and play out in incredible ways. I've had the privilege of hearing thousands of life stories over the years as a therapist, and I often suggest to my clients to think about their story arcs.
Your life has a beginning. It will have an ending. These are immutable facts.
The story arc between these two points in time can be very much within your control. Does that mean everything will go according to plan? Does that mean you can have everything you want? Of course not. Story arcs are made up of episodes -- some episodes will be experiences that you will build upon and weave into your story. They include big events like important relationships, career moves, college, relocation to new places, and the like. They can also be small, but significant experiences, like a book or a dream that makes an impression upon you. They will be part of your story arc if you want them to be, if they move you in a direction that feels right to you. Some episodes, on the other hand, will be experiences that leave you empty, angry, or deceived. They happen -- separations of all kinds (deaths, divorce, lay-offs), addictions, health problems, accidents, you name it -- these types of episodes happen in everyone's lives. But they don't have to alter your story arc.
These obstacles and hurtles can play an important part in your story. You can see them as turning points or times when life taught you a lesson. How did you respond to them? Did you fight back? Did you out-maneuver them? Or did you let them defeat you?
Be the star of your own movie, whether or not you think anyone or anything is watching. Suspend your disbelief that it could be so. Because if you do, you will begin to see the exciting challenges and possibilities that lie ahead.
So go get that broom stick of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Or go find those horcruxes.
Your life depends on it.