The Thing I Like About …

(spoiler alert)

Oz the Great and Powerful: when she refuses healing magic.

In this tale from Oz, the fledgling “wizard” Oscar unwittingly betrays the lovely Theodora, who ends up being transformed into the green-skinned angry wicked witch we all know and love. Her sister Evanora offers to change her back to her lovely original appearance, but Theodora says no, shouting that she would rather show Oscar forever what “he had done to” her. She embraces her notion of betrayal, her scars, and her anger, and she becomes vengeful and full of hatred born from pain.

Why would she do this?

Why would she decide to be ugly and angry and bitter and evil, when, with a simple spell, she could have been returned to herself? Why would she choose to keep the ugliness close to her, and to abandon what she was before Oscar came into her life?

I suppose for the same reason the rest of us do that.

We want the people or events that hurt us to feel bad about what they’ve done.

When we’re growing up, we’re told repeatedly that the things we’ve done wrong should be things we “feel bad about.” In a way, therefore, we’re told that “feeling bad about” something is the way to make the thing better, the way to show that we’re really good people after all, the way to make amends.

But when you say it out loud like that, it doesn’t really make any sense.

Feeling bad about the mistakes we make probably is a sign that we’re really good people after all … but how bad are we supposed to feel, and for how long, and for which kinds of mistakes? Really, ultimately, it’s not about the feeling bad; it’s about being sorry, and saying sorry, and making amends as best we can. But how is Oscar supposed to do that, when Theodora has decided to focus on the feeling bad?

Both for herself and for Oscar, she has put the emphasis on suffering – his for hurting her, and hers in order to remind him. She also wants to remind herself of her mistake: she trusted. She wants to make sure she feels far too bad about that “mistake” to be tempted to make it again. And she wants to make sure Oscar feels as bad about it as she does. And no one ever gets to be truly sorry, or make amends, or be forgiven, or make things right.

Theodora – and so many of the rest of us – choose instead to embrace our suffering, our scars, our hurts and betrayals, our mistakes and imperfections … purely for the purpose of punishing others and scaring ourselves onto a different path.

But either Oscar cares about what he’s done, or he doesn’t. If he does, then there’s nothing to be angry about. If he doesn’t, then he’ll never care about – or even notice – her suffering anyway. Either way, she’s keeping that suffering for no reason, for no purpose, and in the end she’s the only one who feels bad about any of it. In the end, she’s only punishing herself.

We have that choice at every turn. We can hold onto our pain and our anger and our betrayal; we can struggle inordinately to prevent any kind of pain from happening to us again. We can carry our green skin and our wickedness with us into the future to “punish” those who “made us this way” – and we’ll succeed, because we are the ones being punished, and we are the ones who made ourselves “this way.”

Or …

We can let it go. We can say the spell that returns us to our original selves, and accept the magic of healing. It won’t mean we don’t hurt, or that we forget what happened. It won’t mean that we ourselves don’t make mistakes. We’ll still be expected to learn and improve, to suffer, to forgive when we really don’t want to. We’ll still have all the memories with which to make better choices in the future. But we won’t be punished, and we won’t be bitter and vengeful and angry and lost. Those who care about us will be able to make up for their errors and set things right, and those who don’t care about us won’t be marching next to us every step the way for the rest of our lives.

We’ll be our original lovely selves again. We’ll be free.

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