I have never seen the acclaimed musical Wicked but it has shaped my life nonetheless. Defying Gravity was my anthem as I made my decision to leave ministry college. Something in the magical and empowering song gave me permission to begin to question, probe and grow from my experience. Something had indeed changed within me, nothing was the same. I was truly through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game. I realized that I had never believed in the way it was expected of me and I followed a beautiful epiphany that God would love me no matter what I believed. He would and did love anyone no matter their background or belief system, it was an immovable beauty that changed my heart forever. At the time I felt so weighed down by the gravity of doctrine and belief, the expectation of a Christian leader to evangelize, fast, pray and deeply believe in a place of eternal conscious torment, a place called Hell. I was struggling at the time with an invisible force of oppression that my friends and fellow interns were calling “Jesus” or “God’s Perfect Will”, or “His Merciful Justice”. I couldn’t handle the disgusting ramifications of consciously, knowingly deciding to agree with such a principle. And so my whole world came tumbling down, the gravity of a life of ministry was suffocating the truest parts of my soul.
I used to belt out the song “Defying Gravity” fighting with my voice against the culture by which I was so surrounded. I turned my frustration and hatred against God, a sadistic and horrible deity I could barely believe I ever worshiped. I had taken courses in Christian history and learned the truth: more often than not, we were a hateful and vicious culture that hid under the guise of piety as we lashed out, tortured and killed those who did not believe as we did. I saw that here in America, we don’t react with as much violence as in other countries but instead we shun and take over the cultures of others and force upon them a new way of thinking. Those who don’t believe our way are metaphorically tossed into the void, doomed in the minds of true believers to an inevitable fate of all eternity in Hell. I hated the God ministry had shown me. But I loved the God I had always known. And so I struggled to hold on to Him as I fell away from the pedestal on which ministry had placed me and I left college. Defying Gravity and Wicked were my consoling lyrics that carried me through the pain of leaving something in which I had once been so deeply entrenched, something I regretted having believed.
“For Good” had come into my life earlier than “Defying Gravity”. It was the song my friend sang when her mom, my highschool English teacher, died of liver cancer. She sang it at the memorial, she could not finish as tears overtook her and she choked on the words “because I knew you… I have…been changed” it seemed to hit her all in that moment. She knew her mom. She had been changed. Her mom was gone.
The worship team leader completed the last lyric with compassion “for good.” My kind and bubbly friend sobbed on the stage. She was fourteen and she was singing a song about her mom in the past tense. Mom would never come back. My teacher who inspired so many to reach their highest creative potentials and gave the best hugs was gone for good. She had changed us all for good, because we knew her. There is nothing quite as life-shaping as losing someone you were close to. But it’s one of those things that makes life seem so infuriatingly unfair. Losing my teacher after high school helped me become who I am today, I grieved for months. But her daughter, she’s still grieving. I’ll bet that just like me, every time she hears that song, she smiles and she cries because her mom was one of the greatest people many had ever known. And it wasn’t okay that she died.
From then on, whenever a friendship started to fall apart, I would have that song settle into my mind. Almost all of my friendships from home fell apart as complication after complication arose and drama and misunderstanding squelched truly beautiful relationships. They had changed me for good. I was able to move on. Friendships from my new home fell apart too, to the same internal soundtrack.
“Popular” held a special memory for me for a while. I made new friends and new roommates just 6 months after moving up to Spokane with my dear family friends. This girl who had invited me to move in with her also invited me on a weeklong trip to a beautiful Christmastown called Leavenworth. Leavenworth was magic; I felt like I was inside a snowglobe at the base of the Grinch’s mountain. Staying in Whoville for a week with my newest and closest friend. We did karaoke at a local bar, one song was “Popular.” It was her choice and she started the lyrics. The DJ seemed like he was going to try to sabotage her so I stepped in and sang the other half of the lyrics. It was a magical moment like any in Leavenworth, I had been there for a friend, a new friend. It was all I had ever wanted. Her and I left that night closer to each other than we had ever really felt with anyone else. It was midnight and the Christmastown was hushed. All the whos were abed, all the whos were asnooze. The snow was falling in light crystal chunks and we decided we wanted to keep singing. In the dead of night, in the cold, we linked arms and walked back to our cabin, singing Disney songs with gusto, our beautiful voices natural flowed on the winds in the snow. It was “Popular” that gave me this treasured experience. “Popular” that really made me feel safe to move in with this girl.
When I moved in with her, I also moved in with her landlord. It was a strange arrangement, and I was incredulous, but, in so many ways, Leavenworth had been magic. I believed living with them might be magic too. Unfortunately I was wrong. The turning point was realized when I listened to “What Is This Feeling?” It was also from Wicked and was a great example of how love and loathing have a thin line between them. I had thought I had loved my new roommate, and even cared for my new landlord (who lived in the basement and was constantly involved in our lives.) As I walked in the neighborhood, feeling like a stranger in my own house, I thought to create for myself a community. People I could talk to about issues in my home and feel safe. Incidentally, that day, I discovered that “What Is This Feeling?” is about roommates who instantaneously loathe each other. Listening to my landlord’s tales of horrific violence and gratuitous sexual experiences, I asked him to stop sharing so much. He was very offended. He was the type of person who expected his integrity to be taken at face value. Questioning it was an accusation whether you had known him for years or for hours. I asked too many questions, it made my new roommate cry. My landlord told me I had problems. He threatened to throw me out on more than one occasion. He did all of this with an air of pygmalion kindness. “You poor, messed up thing! Let me fix you and take you in and make your life better. Just recognize me as a knight in shining armor and do not ever question my intentions.” Sharing with my roommate his attitude proved to be a bad decision. She confronted him about my issues with his character, something I had said to her in confidence. And so I learned I could trust neither my “magical” roommate nor my “safe, protective” landlord, and they did not believe I could be trusted to keep my mouth shut. Every possible rumor that was ever started about such a living arrangement, surfaced at this time. I was seen as the perpetrator. The landlord stopped seeing me as a poor young woman in need of place to live and I morphed instead into an animal, an obstacle besmirching his perfect reputation. The story of the song is about one roommate, Glinda who thinks she is being a kind and genuine person by letting Elphaba, a green-faced outcast live in her home with her. The more I stayed living there, the more I saw that she was Glinda and I was Elphaba. Glinda was heralded for her tremendous generosity, called a martyr for suffering such an outcast to be her roommate. Elphaba was simply living there and focusing on her own life until she realized the nature of her roommate and the wizard.
Here is where I came full circle. Defying Gravity resurfaced as my heart cry. My landlord, and roommate both refused to let me question, to probe. It was like ministry school, but worse. What happened when I lived there was a form of everything I had ever been told might happen if I were to leave ministry. I had a chilling feeling, a deep and terrifying fear, that ministry school and my entire life of religious experience had been right. The world was purely dangerous, entirely self-preserving, compassionless.. I began to consider my landlord “the wizard.” And, like ministry school and that vindictive, sadistic God I started to loathe, “no wizard that there is or was, was ever going to bring me down.” In the duet version, Glinda accuses Elphaba of choosing the wrong path. They depart, “I hope you’re happy, now that you’re choosing this.” When I moved away, it was abrupt. The wizard fought me, hard. Not to keep me living with him and her, just to make me aware that he would not be okay with me, Elphaba, keeping Glinda as a friend in any way. We were not to talk, drive, or spend any time together at all. I did lose Glinda that day, I did defy gravity. Still, defying gravity has its price, I don’t know that it changed me for the better, but knowing them, indeed changed me for good. Magic or not, “Popular” was not enough to stop me from coming to loathe both of my “roommates.” Wicked has changed my life, been there for me, to help me along in my decisions in difficult and oppressive circumstances. Wicked has, in a sense, kept me safe for many years, a better friend to me than many who I have lost.
I’ve since met better friends, better roommates. A stranger who found me in this time of need and let me live in her home without expecting that I sing her praises, just out of real genuine kindness and a need for money. We moved into our own place together and she met a guy. He lives with us now and through them, I have learned that ministry school was not right about the world. The wizard and Glinda were only a part of this world, all I had to do was defy a little gravity to find something so much better.
*Let it be known, I am basing this on hearing from people who have seen the show and my own perspectives in listening to the lyrics. I am not claiming to know the exact plot of this musical.
Title Image: http://www.puglyfeet.com/blog/2009/10/wicked.html
For Good: http://seattle-gps.com/broadway-show/
Elphaba meets the Wizard: https://hklscom106.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/wicked-could-you-be-happier/
Defying Gravity Reprise: https://sorryihaverehearsals.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/wicked-defying-gravity.jpg