She was 47. Maybe it’s out of the shear fact that it is the age I find myself at this point in life and knowing what the past year has been like for me, but I found myself deeply moved and connected with Judy Garland as I watched her life portrayed through Renee Zellweger in the stunning movie, Judy. No, I don’t have the experience of drug use or anything like that, but I certainly know what it’s like to not to be able to get out of bed in the morning, when it feels as if life had all but sucked everything out of you and immobilizes you. I would bet that most of us, at one time or another, have had such experiences when we face loss, life has us down, or the feeling of the weight of the world placed upon our shoulders. Yet, somehow, she digs deep and finds herself onstage, with a smile, as if all was right in the world. Until it wasn’t. Until the time arrived when the darkest shadows’ she carried made their way to centerstage with her, no longer being able to outrun her own self, where the feeling of blue is more deeply rooted than it is in the sky.
Without a doubt, Garland’s most iconic image is of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. As the story is told and how life devolves for her, though, it would seem that the most memorable song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, is emblematic to the tortured life that she lived offscreen. There was always a deeper longing, like the blue birds, to fly high and spur on to the other side of the rainbow. Yet life held her back, a life, at an early age, was chosen for her. It is, after all, her offscreen life that always remained hidden, living two different lives by day and night. It is the offscreen life that is so intriguing and can teach us about our own longings for better days, where we too can fly high and witness to a promise of a better life beyond the rainbow where clouds are far behind.
Yet, in the moments of darkness and life can be seen as not having any purpose at all, often end up becoming some of the most teachable of all moments. They have a way, like none other, to stop us in our tracks and force us to finally face the stormy clouds and the demons that always find a way to lurk so closely to us. No matter how much we try to ignore, or in her case as it is for many, to medicate ourselves out of the darkness, nothing synthetic or mere substance is ever fully going to take away an experience of depression, grief, and longing. Rather, it is only by walking through the storm where blue skies begin to be seen and the shadows begin to dissipate that eventually catapult is into a more meaningful life, a whole life rather than trying to live two. It doesn’t mean that the demons ever fully leave us. We learn to befriend them and become aware of their presence so that they no longer have control over us.
All Dorothy ever wanted to do, in singing the lyrics, is to arrive home. We all desire to have the experience of “being home” in ourselves. Home was not home for Judy and the longing she sings of in that song, with such passion, was indicative of a mother who, for lack of better terms, sold her off into the slavery of stardom at such a young age. It lingered with her throughout her life. One of the final lines she articulates in the movie, to the audience of London, was not to forget her. A family and a system that had failed her, took advantage of her, and held her captive, practically assured her of a short-lived life but also left her with a longing, for dreams to come true, that had become too hard to overcome. Her time on stage was the only escape she had in life, where the troubles, by no means melting like lemon drops, could at least subside, once she found the energy to take that first step out. The heaviness, though, was too much to bear and yet the addiction to being accepted drove her into an endless cycle of interior poverty and eventually, literally homeless. A life that was out of her control, in that, all she could ever do was dream of a day when she could finally spur onto the other side of the rainbow.
It is unfortunate that she never had the chance to experience that in her life, cut way too short by an overdose. It is sometimes hard for us to imagine such a situation. Trying to manage two different lives, flying monkeys acting as demons, clouds of darkness lingering, have a way of damping the most spirited person. The layers of grief we live with, whether loss or regrets or a hoping our lives were something else, have great power over us if we simply try to medicate it away. It doesn’t go away. More often than not it requires the courage of a step in our own lives to step off stage ourselves and deal with what lies beyond the curtain. It’s the path to oneness and the yellow brick road that points us towards not the fictitious and fabricated world of Oz, but the home she desired and the one we desire as well. It may come in the form of a tornado, or it will often feel that way, but it eventually drops us where we need to be, grow roots, and from there live the life we were given to live. It’s not all rainbows and lemon drops, but the blue skies and birds are always there reminding us not to hold too tightly to the stage life, or better yet, the staged life we often live. It is the place where the dreams we dare to dream really do come true.