Lately, 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.
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.