On January 4th, the last words my dad said to me were, “and always remember the story of Wizard of Oz.” What? I remember thinking. I can’t recall if I voiced my confusion or if he merely noticed the perplexed look on my face, but my dad reiterated, “just remember the story of the Wizard of Oz.” And then I was off, making my way to a gate in Baltimore’s airport, where a plane was waiting to depart for my Peace Corps orientation in San Francisco.
For months, I rolled my eyes at my dad’s ‘final words of wisdom.’ Mostly because I likely will do the same to my kids someday when they leave on their own great adventure. I am, after all, a carbon copy of my father whether either of us like to admit that. But also, because I hadn’t watched the Wizard of Oz in years and struggled to remember much more than the yellow brick road and that song about a rainbow that became popular all over again when some dude with a ukelele recreated it in 1993. I refused, however, to take the easy way out and watch the movie to figure out the significance of my dad’s words. Although it had been a while, I knew the movie’s message was still etched in my brain somewhere and I wanted to dig it up through my own experiences.
On June 25th, over six months since I last saw my dad , I sent me him a message that I had finally discovered the essence of his advice. While most people see the Wizard of Oz as a timeless children’s tale, it is really so much more. The Wizard of Oz is the story of a girl who leaves the seemingly dull life she has always known in search of something much greater. On her journey, she makes three unlikely friends that also find themselves in a similar predicament and in search of something they’ve been missing… courage, heart and a brain. The four friends face many obstacles on their voyage to see the great Wizard, who they believe will give them everything they have been looking for. They overcome poisonous fields of flowers as well as an evil witch and her clan of flying monkeys. Eventually, the group makes it to the wonderful land of Oz, only to discover they had courage, heart and a brain within themselves the entire time. And while Dorothy learns so many valuable lessons on her pursuit of Oz, she is reminded that the grass isn’t always greener and there is ultimately “no place like home.” The story of the Wizard of Oz is the story of my Peace Corps experience.
I left the life I had known for nearly 23 years in search of something bigger, something greater, something that home couldn’t offer me. In just six months, I have come to know myself on a rawer level than ever before. I’ve formed countless unbreakable bonds with my own unlikely companions along the way, all of which I can confidently say I wouldn’t have the privilege of knowing if it wasn’t for this wild ride. But as I sit here, 9,235 miles from Maryland, I appreciate home on a much deeper level than ever before, as well. I am so thankful for the places I have been able to see in my life and I look forward to the many other places I will go and the many other faces I will see. But, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am also very much looking forward to building a life stateside at the end of this journey. Sometimes, those oases and grand journeys we dream up in our minds aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Or maybe they are all they’re cracked up to be, but that doesn’t make the quaint small town you’ve called home your entire life any less spectacular. There is something to be said for the backroads you know like the back of your hand and the local pizzeria that immediately knows your special order when you call in on any given night.
While embarking on this Peace Corps journey and moving to Thailand helped me realize my own courage, heart and brain… I am able to recognize that these things have been inside me the whole time. And that is largely in part to none other than my father. Since 1994, he has played a vital role in molding me into the woman I am today. He helped me muster up the courage I needed as a 12-year-old, 100 pound, 5-foot-nothing softball pitcher facing batters much, much larger than me. Then, he helped me muster up a new level of courage as a 22-year-old female college student seeking justice for relationship violence. He helped me find my heart by telling me not to be hardened by experiences like the aforementioned and advising me to learn from his mistakes. And he helped me find my brain by always, always, always stressing the importance of education and the value of forming independent opinions. And, of course, he is one of my five reasons why there is “no place like home.”