Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Dorothy, I Have A Feeling We're Not In Kansas Anymore

Marin County, California, USA

May 15, 2006

This essay, Dorothy, I Have A Feeling We're Not In Kansas Anymore, is the companion piece to View From A Fallow Wheatfield.

It is the second in a pentalogy inspired by Dorothy:
  1. The Heart Of Werner's Work
  2. Dorothy, I Have A Feeling We're Not In Kansas Anymore
  3. Interesting Interested Lady
  4. Zen Gardener
  5. God Is In His Heaven And Everything Is Right With The World
in that order.

It is also the fifth in an open group on People:

Photography by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
Dorothy Gale and Toto

I'm an immigrant to these United States. I got my first sense I was headed in this direction at the age of six when I read L (Lyman) Frank Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. After seeing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's film version I no longer simply had a sense: I knew. I asked my mother where Dorothy lived. She asked me why I wanted to know. "Because I want to visit her" I replied. My mother explained to me Dorothy lived in Kansas but the real  Dorothy was Judy Garland who lived in Los Angeles.

At the age of six I wasn't clear about the distinction "Dorothy" as distinct from "the real  Dorothy". I was, however, clear that wherever Kansas and Los Angeles were, one day I would go there and visit Dorothy.

Twenty years later I had not yet reached the United States (or Kansas or Los Angeles). The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz and its call to me was brought back to my awareness by John's Boorman's metaphysical western Zardoz with Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling, Zardoz being a contraction of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. It's soundtrack, the booming, evocative Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, immediately became part of the soundtrack of my life.

Eventually I did get to the United States. I landed in Los Angeles then visited Kansas on a business trip although in neither place did I get to visit Dorothy. In Kansas I was excited to find a town called Lawrence  (my first name is Laurence) near the Platte  river (my last name is Platt) on to which I happily heaped much meaning and significance. Lawrence Kansas is the town nuked in Nicholas Meyer's harrowing account of nuclear holocaust The Day After with Jason Robarts which I'd seen a few years earlier. That thought turned around and around in my mind as I quietly ate a hamburger at a local Lawrence mom and pop café. Nothing appeared to be radio active.

Five years later I finally did visit Dorothy, realizing my childhood dream. But by then, in an interesting turn of fate, the Dorothy Gale of my childhood fantasies had morphed into a new Dorothy, the mother of my friend Werner. Today Dorothy is ninety six years old and is one of my closest friends. Recently I was fortunate enough to sit with her in her home, talking quietly on comfortable chairs in her sun drenched living room, not one iota out of place, not one speck of dust visible anywhere.

She reached for a cigarette and I leaned over to light it for her. "You know, Dorothy" I said, feigning a very serious tone as I cupped the match in my hands, "You shouldn't smoke. Smoking will shorten your life.".

That's a joke, of course. Telling a spritely ninety six year old to stop smoking because smoking will shorten her life ... is ... a ... joke!  We looked at each other ... then we both cracked up  in peals in joyful laughter.

She seems to defy those things most people would agree should slow "old" people down. Once I called her on the phone. It rang and rang and rang and she didn't answer. My thought was she was asleep or out or perhaps didn't hear the phone.

Finally, just as I was about to hang up, she answered. She apologized for taking so long to get to the phone. She said she was up on the roof  tending her roof garden. She said she gets up on the roof by climbing a ladder she leans against a wall. She said when the phone rang she had to climb down the ladder to get to the phone. And she apologized to me for taking so long, saying she was not able to climb down the ladder very fast.

That blew me away. She's in her mid-nineties. She climbs a ladder to get up on her roof where she tends a roof garden. She's considerate enough when the phone rings to put down her work and climb back down the ladder to answer the phone. And she apologizes for being slow getting to the phone!

That's the time you know, being with her, you're in the presence of an extraordinary human being.

When she speaks about her son she speaks as any mother who is proud of her child's accomplishments would speak. Werner and many of the people who know him may say his experience of transformation which resulted in his work in the world came about through completing his relationship with Dorothy. Dorothy then, is the heart of Werner's work. She speaks candidly of the time Werner was away for twelve years. She makes no attempt to hide the fact it was a distressing, painful time for her. She tells me "But I always knew he would come back. I just didn't know when. And I always knew wherever he was, he was OK. Then when he did come back I almost wasn't surprised. The evening of the first day he was back I celebrated with a nice glass of wine then had a good night's sleep.".

Incredulously I asked her "Dorothy, how could you possibly have known he was OK? He was gone so long. Anything could have happened.". She then said what has become, for me, the credo which Dorothy lives by:

"I knew he was OK because God Is In His Heaven And Everything Is Right With The World.".

I paused to let it sink in. Then I looked at her and offered one of my own epithets. I said:

"And Dorothy, you're the Mother of God.".

We looked at each other, eye to eye, enjoying the magic of the moment. We both knew what had just been said. Then one of us winked (I'm still not certain who), the piety of the moment was broken, and again we both cracked up in peals of laughter.

It's quite clear to me something extraordinary is possible with her. From time to time I implore her to make herself available to speak to those elderly people who seem to have lost all zest for living and are simply waiting for their own inexorable demise. Clearly Dorothy is living proof it doesn't have to be that way. "Yes" she says, "I'm a phenomenon.". So I say to her, knowing she - like me - is a graduate of Werner's work, "That's because you choose to have the life you have. It's because you exercise your choice all the time, isn't it? You remember to choose it and that's what gives you so much life.".

But she discounts my theory. She says "But I don't  choose it. That's just the way it is.". And she adds, almost as an afterthought, "Besides which, I don't know I'm ninety six.".

She told me she has a friend who, in her later years, discovered the value in going to church regularly. She would call Dorothy quite often asking her to consider going to church regularly too. Dorothy is one of the few people I know who can converse with sensitivity, depth, and great understanding about almost any religion in the world. She is respectful of all religions. But when her friend suggested she start going to church regularly, she asked her friend why she was recommending it. Her friend told her it's an opportunity to be in God's house.

Dorothy, who lives alone, who drives herself around in her car, who manages her own life at ninety six, said "I prefer to be at home. God is already in my house.".

For her ninety sixth birthday I arranged to have plain long stemmed red roses in a tall glass vase - very Zen - delivered. The note said:


Happy 96th Dorothy.
May You Live Forever.
I Love You,

I almost added "Dorothy, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" but I didn't.

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