I was born into a black and white world and most of my early childhood memories are gray.
I remember sitting with my mom watching the President Kennedy Parade and sudden assassination on a black and white T.V. I was four years old. “Dammit” I said as I slammed my etch-a-sketch on the floor. Shattering the two dimensional art surface. After Walter Cronkite solemnly pronounced John Fitzgerald Kennedy dead, my mom got me properly dressed and we went to meet my dad at work. Then we just wandered the streets dazed and empty like everyone else. It was like a nation was looking into its own soul through each other’s eyes.
Perhaps that bullet destroyed my mom’s last hope of making a hopeless situation work. Her and my dad were strung out on heroin, She decided she couldn’t live like this another day. Not long after Kennedy was laid to rest and the eternal flame was lit, my mom gave me and my brother away to a foster home. She sought treatment in a live-in drug rehabilitation facility. My Dad returned to the streets, and never made it back.
Our foster parents were responsible successful, Church going people, when the sun was up. They unleashed their demons at night or when the doors were locked. The worse part was not being abused, intimidated, and humiliated, it was the feeling that I was trapped in a nightmare world with no hope of escape. I felt invisible. I didn’t know if I would ever see my mom again. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to go home.
Then one night something unusual occurred. My foster parents started speaking in soft and gentle tones. We took our bath early. We got our best pajamas on, and huddled together on the living room floor with blankets and popcorn. Our foster parents explained that there was going to be a special premiere presentation of “The Wizard of Oz!” How magical that name sounded, and I had already witnessed its transforming power on my two tormentors.
When Judy Garland began singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” I think I experienced hope for the first time in my life. Maybe there was something beyond my black and white world, after all. And when that house landed and Dorothy opened the door, a cascade of color poured into my life for the very first time! My gray existence returned the next day. But a seed had been planted. I knew that one day I would make it home.
Two nights ago, my wife Suzanne and I went to see Il Mago di Oz, the Italian name for the same movie. The house was packed with a hip young Italian crowd, a testament to the universal and timeless themes of the film. The heart of that young boy that was originally touched by that movie is still alive in my heart. A tear of gratitude slipped down my cheek.
My life has symbolically traced the plot line of The Wizard of Oz. I was born into injustice. I wanted to run away, but couldn’t. I felt like I’d been hit by a tornado. I set out to find a way back home. I fought evil along the way, mostly within myself. I developed love, wisdom, and courage because life demanded what I never knew I had. I discovered that God was not an angry fearful tyrant, but a gentle loving power that wanted to bless me, and others through me. I realized that I had the power with me the whole time, I just wouldn’t have believed it. So, I had to take the journey.
I now understand that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire, I never need look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. And of course there’s no place like home, and home is where the heart is. I have found a treasure living in mine and I am pouring it back out into a black and white world that needs to be colored by the love, wisdom, and courage that resides in all of us.