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
lived. She asked me why I wanted to know. "Because I want to visit her"
explained to me
lived in Kansas but the realDorothy
was Judy Garland who lived in Los Angeles.
At the age of six I wasn't clear about the distinction
as distinct from "the realDorothy".
I was, however, clear that wherever Kansas and Los Angeles were, one
day I would go there and visit
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
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
at a local Lawrence mom and pop café. Nothing appeared to be
Five years later I finally did visit
realizing my childhood dream. But by then, in an interesting turn of
Gale of my childhood fantasies had morphed into a new
Dorothy, the mother of my
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
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
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
which resulted in his work in the world came about through completing
his relationship with
the heart of Werner's
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
a nice glass of wine
then had a good night's
Incredulously I asked her
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
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
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
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
"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
quite often asking her to consider going to church regularly too.
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 is an opportunity to be in
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.
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
- delivered. The note said:
May You Live Forever.
I Love You,
I almost added
I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" but I didn't.