“We’ll help you through it,” my 9-year-old granddaughter offered, followed by her 7-year-old sister’s “Don’t worry, Nana, I’ll hold your hand.” And so it was that I watched The Wizard of Oz, making it through a movie for the first time that delivered frequent nightmares to me as a child, and for six decades pushed me from any room where it was playing.
Thinking it funny that I feared The Wizard of Oz, years ago my son at 12 or 13, gave me a Wicked-Witch-of-the-West figurine as a joke. I keep it in my office as a reminder to embrace the popular philosophy: “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” But I never did that with The Wizard of Oz. When my granddaughters spied that green-faced-witch on the credenza of my new office, they asked why I had it. It was that day I told them more then the snippets they’d heard before about me and Oz. We talked about fear, and its challenges, as I told them about my movie experience.
When I was small, a television was beyond my parents means. We didn’t own one until I was 7 or 8. Hence, my first experience with anything “on screen,” was the day my mother took my brother and me by bus, downtown, to a theater to see The Wizard of Oz. I was 5.
It was difficult in this current world, where screen-time happens in some cribs, to explain to my granddaughters the impact my movie-experience had. At the time, what was happening on screen was as real as my mother sitting next to me. I was on the yellow brick road, too. Midway through, the flying monkeys took me out — literally. As I became inconsolably terrified, my mother walked me from the theater. For weeks the images plagued my nights, waking me with my own screams.
I’ve avoided The Wizard of Oz ever since with gusto. But when my granddaughters started encouraging me to get over my fear, their words echoing previous nudges from my husband and son, I knew they all were right. How could I be a role model for my granddaughters, or have them be as proud of me as I am of them, if I wouldn’t even try to resolve this irrational fear? How could I challenge them to remove their own fears if I was unwilling to address mine?
One morning recently, with them by my side, I watched the entire movie. We did it with laughs, hugs, and breaks. I’m happy to report it was a fear-free, positive experience to conquer Oz.
While most of us don’t have a lifetime fear from a movie, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own irrational fears. Some develop from experiences like mine, but most are taught to us by our families or friends, or are encouraged or reinforced by our networks, communities, status, beliefs, or roles — irrational fears such as: people who are not like us should be feared, not embraced, kept out, not welcomed.
In the scheme of things, me conquering Oz isn’t going to change the world, but it will change mine. It frees me to be comfortable in a room where it’s playing; to model for my granddaughters that giving fear power isn’t helpful; and to help them challenge their own fears. While “feel the fear and do it anyway” isn’t always the answer, seeing yourself through little eyes does help.
In these times when some would try to convince us that clinging to irrational fears is prudent, it’s a good time, I think, to actively conquer our own versions of Oz. What I learned is that The Wizard of Oz wasn’t at all what I thought it was. And most of what we’re afraid of isn’t either.