Earlier this month I finally made it to Wicked, the musical about the lives and friendship between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West. I had heard a few of the songs long before I had seen the play and was not surprised that Popular was so, well, popular. It’s funny and cute and something we all can relate to at some time or other.
But my favorite song was Defying Gravity, sung by the well-intentioned but deeply misunderstood green girl. I had tears in my eyes as Elphaba ascended to new heights belting out her battle cry to be yourself despite all odds.
Of course not everyone who hears the call can heed it. The unsuspecting and highly suspicious citizens of Oz assumed the worst. They could only see the flying phenom as the villain the people in power had made her out to be to hide their own wickedness. Not once did they consider the rest of the story.
History seldom records the whole story. If we’re lucky, one day it will find its way to light. That’s when a prisoner can become president and change the world.
A few weekends ago I watched the Kennedys miniseries. Even though I was born in the 60s, I was too young to really grasp the extreme changes that swept the country throughout that decade. It was fascinating to put events in context and try to comprehend the courage it took to lead a nation through such turbulent times. It seemed like everyone who tried to do so was assassinated. It’s enough to make me think twice about leading a revolution.
Yet every era has a need for visionaries, leaders, courageous men and women who are committed to doing the right thing. Every organization needs someone with a moral compass at the helm or somewhere in the ranks to blow the whistle should things go horribly wrong. But how many of us, really, want to be the whistle blower? It’s not a popular position. At least not until Hollywood makes a movie about you.
Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”
I say midlife is nothing if not a daring adventure. Anything that may have seemed secure – relationships, jobs, finances, familial roles, or institutions – can and will come up for questioning. Avoiding the danger of dealing with these issues at the first sign trouble is not a good strategy. Just ask the Pope or the officials at Penn State.
While it may seem easier in the short run to sweep these inconvenient truths under the rug, we all know they will come back to bite us or someone or something we love or hold dear. We don’t have to be Glinda, Elphaba, Nelson Mandela, John or Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Erin Brockovich, or any public figure to live a courageous life. We are asked to do so every day in a million quiet ways.
In order to do so we must activate our latent midlife superpowers, the most powerful of which may be our ability to defy gravity. By rising above it all like those hot air balloon characters in the Macy’sThanksgiving Day parade, we can do what’s necessary and right and good, even if our voice shakes or we lose popularity points.
What do you think, shall we dust off the broom and take it out for a spin?
All it really takes is regular practice.