I was making rounds at a hospital in Miami, Florida. I exited the elevator and rounded the corner leading to the cardiac unit and was met with fanfare and surprise. The usually sterile quiet hall was alive with balloons and celebration. There was a cart at the nurse’s station supporting a huge birthday cake. I figured a VIP was in house, however I usually get word of VIP and on this day I received none. I looked at the cake and it read, “Happy Birthday Murray”. I inquired about Murray and was told he is the patient in room 607. The hall was alive with administrators, the CEO of the hospital, and news reporters. I chose to visit other patients on the floor until the hoopla ceased. An hour later I entered room 607. I was greeted by a very short woman, who we will call Grace. Grace measured about 3 feet and a few inches in height. Her eyes met my waist. Her bright, flowing clothing accentuated her radiant eyes that pierced my heart with love and compassion. She was a shining star. The dull hospital green walls emphasized the drabness of the room. Although it was a gloomy day, a direct ray of sun managed to creep through the clouds and project itself onto the puffy cheeks of the patient, Grace’s husband, Murray. We were alone in the room, as the planned celebration was now complete. In the bed I saw a man who was about the same height as Grace. Peeking through his covers I saw that the oxygen mask he wore covered a good portion of his round face and bubbly cheeks. His full head of hair was neatly combed and he wore a huge welcoming contented smile. The basic joyful nature of these two people negated the bleakness of the hospital room, and made it come alive.
I introduced myself as the Chaplain. Their greeting was warm and inviting. I asked what all the fuss was all about and was told that today was Murray’s eightieth birthday. I congratulated him, but the purpose of the celebration still was unclear to me, as many people had their birthday parties in the hospital and it was not usually a big event. I was invited to sit by Grace. As I accepted her invitation our eyes met on the same level. She told me their story.
Murray was the last surviving “munchkin” from the movie “The Wizard of Oz”. He stood to the right of Dorothy (Judy Garland), as they skipped down the yellow brick road. Grace went on to tell me how Murray was an entertainer all his life. He appeared in numerous movies and on stage in the Catskill Mountains. She took out a picture book and shared snapshots of his career. Most of the pictures were from the Wizard of Oz. There were pictures of Murray with Dorothy, the Tin Man, The Scarecrow, The Lion, and of course The Wizard of Oz. As she spoke she became more and more animated, joyful and proud. Murray who had cardiac problems, and was unable to respond verbally due to the oxygen, displayed his approval with body movement, facial and hand expressions. I was entering the world of feeling with this vibrant couple as they revealed their life’s journey.
My mind was bustling with the stories revealed in the scrapbook. I thought of the characters and the effect they have had on our lives. Being a student of Torah, and constantly studying the lessons of our matriarchs and patriarchs, I was able to see these characters from a movie I had seen countless times in a new and personal way. I realized I never took the time to explore the soul expressions of these characters. I saw all of them in need of something physical that would support their existence and quest in life. I saw the Tin Man who was in need of a heart. He displayed compassion, concern, and love for his friends and did not realize that he could not have these feelings without a heart. I saw the Scarecrow who was in need of a brain to employ logic with clarity and understanding while masterminding the trip to see the Wizard. I saw The Lion who lacked courage stand erect to protect his friends as they journeyed. I saw Dorothy, the child in all of us that yearns so much for truth, justice and holiness in the world, running in all directions to find it. I saw the witches — one good and one evil– as our inner selves as we wrestle with our emotions. Finally, I saw the Wizard, the Supreme Being that we strive to be close to, that may disappoint us, but will always provide us with the ingredients to deepen and open our lives and go on to the highest levels.
We visited for about an hour. I felt the heart and soul of these two people. They may have been physically short, but they were spiritual giants. Their entire lives had been focused around this movie. When I noticed Murray fading into sleep, I recognized my cue to leave. I offered a blessing.
“May you, Murray, feel God’s energy traveling through you as holy breath, bringing you the healing and sustenance you need to go on with your life and work. May the joy that you have brought about in peoples’ lives be realized for generations, and may you be healed in body, mind, and spirit. May you, Grace, have the inner and outer strength and courage to sustain your energy for yourself and Murray. May you, together, walk in God’s light. Amen.”
We hugged each other and I took my leave. As the days passed and I visited many more times, I felt a connection and deep respect for this family. It was not because they were short people, or because they were famous. It was because they were happy and engaged in the practice of life. I connected with their soul. Murray recovered and left the hospital.
About six weeks passed. I was making my rounds in the intensive care unit, and I saw Grace. She recognized me. She told me Murray’s condition had worsened and he was in the ICU unit. We spoke for a while. She clung to her scrapbook, with all of its pictures and articles. She once again shared them with me. I was immediately thrown back to the holy space I shared with them at their previous visit. Our souls met yet again.
I realized that this scrapbook that Grace was clutching tightly was her Bible. It contained not only the memories of her and Murray’s life, but also the wisdom and growth lessons that were their existence together and separately. Each picture was a story and each story contained many life lessons.
Days went on and Murray was not recovering. His internal systems had shut down, and his body was bloated and unresponsive. The physicians told Grace that Murray was not going to recover and suggested they remove the life support that was keeping his body functioning. She refused to do so. She clung to her scrapbook and sat at Murray’s side. An ethics council was convened to explain the uselessness of the continuation of life support. She continued to refuse. I was then called and asked if I would communicate to Grace that the situation was hopeless. The staff knew of our relationship, and it was their hope she would listen to me.
I sat with Grace. The meeting began with her tears, a hug, and concern for Murray. She opened the scrapbook, and once again proceeded to tell me their story. I listened for nearly an hour without saying a word. Her tears were like a holy well of love flowing down her cheeks. When she had completed the words she needed to hear, I held her hand, and explained the staff’s diagnosis. We spoke of life, verses quality of life, and Murray being trapped in his body, and how special it would be to release his precious soul. She said she knew this had to be done; however she could not, and would not give the order to kill him. I looked into her eyes and feeling a strong attachment with her soul. I said to her,“Grace, Murry’s soul is in black and white. Let it go to Technicolor.”
Our eyes met with intensity, and our souls joined. With tears flowing, she squeezed my hand, and asked if I would be present when they discontinued life support. I agreed. May he rest in peace, may his memory be a blessing, and may he always travel the yellow brick road.
In order to provide the pastoral care needed by this family, I had to join with them and travel along their yellow brick road. I was able to accomplish this by recognizing and joining with their soul. The intentions of their hearts and souls became evident to me in the number of times I was told their story and shown the scrapbook, which I came to recognize as their bible. All of their life, and indeed life experiences, were encompassed in these pages. It chronicled their younger life with pictures of themselves as children in formal wear and their wedding celebration. It included pictures of Murray on stage, and the pride in his face. It showed scenes from the Wizard of Oz; Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Wizard. Were these characters any different to them as biblical characters such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are to me? Was the threat of burning the scarecrow the same for them as Abraham taking his son to sacrifice him? Does Grace’s heart hurt any less than Rachel’s when she honored her sister by allowing her to marry her beshert, or Haggar being exiled into the wilderness with her son Ishmael? Was the tenacious journey to see and hear the Wizard any different than our journey to see and hear and wrestle with God?
We, as spiritual caregivers must embrace other people’s beliefs and customs. We must be open to diversity and be conscious and flexible. Their scrapbook is not my bible nor is it my commentary on the bible. It is, however, the path to the soul of this family. This is their path, The Yellow Brick Road, and I was fortunate to travel it. May we always be able to journey arm in arm, holding each others hands, with the energy of Shechina on our shoulder as we travel down our Yellow Brick Roads.