Inspirational Figures, Personal Stories

Lessons from Beyond the Rainbow

Judy GarlandToday, on the anniversary of Judy Garland’s famously attended funeral in New York City, along with the NYC Gay Pride parade this weekend, it seemed like an appropriate time to devote a blog post to this icon.  She is a deeply beloved figure both within the gay community and to children and adults around the world who have landed upon her classic film, the Wizard of Oz.  I was one of those kids, awed and fascinated by the innocent and beautiful Dorothy in the blue dress.  The Wizard of Oz played on repeat in my home, as I fawned over her voice, her sparkly red shoes, and her metaphorical journey back home. 

As beloved and talented as she was, she was also a tragic figure, dying at the early age of 47 from an accidental barbiturate overdose, with a long string of failed marriages behind her and a history of childhood abuse by studio executives.  As loved as she was, she never could quite seem to muster that same love for herself.  She picked herself up by the bootstraps many a time, only to fall back into the same patterns of addiction and difficult men.

How many of us can relate to her struggles in some way?  Self-love seems like one of those elusive qualities that we all seek in things outside of ourselves, only to find that one hit of happiness leads only to a further, futile search for another hit…because just one will never be enough.  A meditation teacher asked me the other day if I was ready to embrace inner freedom, which would mean giving up on my “happiness project.”  As I reflected honestly on his question, visions of to-do lists and my personal self-improvement quest loomed large in my periphery, and my honest answer, in that moment, had to be “no.”

The hamster wheel of reaching for feeling better seems to a perpetual part of the human condition.  But does it have to be?  As I sat and contemplated his question more, I realized that I could give it all up tomorrow.  Feeling sad, bad, or broken doesn’t have to be any less meaningful than feeling happy, joyous, or satisfied.  Both states are part of the human experience, and to try to cover one with the other only further contributes to our sources of unhappiness.  I recognized that this moment could be just as interesting as the next, if I wasn’t perpetually searching for something with which to “fill” or “fix” the present.

Judy Garland also couldn’t seem to find the magic bullet that could allow her to enjoy her life in the midst of enormous success, love, and talent.  That search down the yellow brick road never did seem to lead her home after all.  Because what was it that Dorothy was searching for?  A Wizard of epic proportions?  A lion to rescue the day?  A beautiful, twinkling city to cater to all of her needs?  She found all of these things, and nothing seemed to live up to expectations or to soothe her yearning for what she had had all along.

Her own ruby slippers contained the key.   A metaphor for the self-love, the “home,” that already lives inside of all of us, she found this out only towards the end of a long and arduous journey.  She had adventures, she met many colorful characters, and she stared down the face of her own inner demons (…or flying monkeys). 

And as tragic as Judy’s life may have seemed from the outside, without ever finding the “home” she so desperately sought, her legacy would tell otherwise.  Her performances, which uplifted audiences with her enormous vocals and larger-than-life persona, continue to inspire.  She was big, she was small, she was tragic, she was angelic, and her rainbow stretches beyond even her untimely passing.

So the next time I am tempted to pick up my happiness project again, I will remember Judy, with the cherub eyes and the big voice and the bigger sadness, and think that if one person can live through all of that….then surely I can love this moment and love myself, clicking my heels to reveal that all I need already exists right here, inside of me.

2 thoughts on “Lessons from Beyond the Rainbow”

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