Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

We sing along with the Munchkins as they celebrate their liberation: Ding dong, the witch is dead! Which old witch? The wicked witch!

      Not content with release from her power, they revel in revenge on their tormentor meted out in eternal punishment: She’s gone where the goblins go…yo ho! Soldiers march in parade, townspeople cheer and wave, the tumult awakens babies so they can witness the festivities. It is a feel-good moment all around, and all of us watching the screen join the celebration.

          But what exactly are we cheering for? We observers know nothing about the history of the Wicked Witch of the East’s oppression of Munchkinland. The Munchkins are cute and happy and seemingly innocent, so we jump onto their side. We cheer the soldiers, as if they had something to do with the witch’s demise. She was killed by a falling house, seen, I am sure, as an act of whatever god the Munchkins pay homage to, punishment meted out by cosmic justice. OK, I get it; I am reading way too much into a world of clueless small people, green hags, bubble-borne beauties, and a charlatan wizard.

          Our response to the witch’s death is of interest because it is far from unique; we celebrate destruction of the bad guys, whether in Saturday morning cartoons or Star Wars. When our political leaders announce that they carried out the execution some terrorist leader in a drone strike, they expect affirmation if not acclaim, despite whatever casualties, “collateral damage,” may have also been inflicted. When a convicted murderer is sentenced to death, the cameras and reporters focus on family and friends of the victims hugging each other in the joy that justice has been done for their loved one, as if another death will bring them back.

          But in the hospice unit, this sense of cosmic justice gets turned on its head. If the universe metes out punishment and death because of wickedness, then the suffering, the dying of the young loving mother makes no sense. This is an affront to the world we celebrated with the Munchkins; it is as if the water thrown on the Wicked Witch of the West did not melt her but killed Dorothy instead.

          We do not live in a Disney world of fairy tale justice, where Jedi always triumph and Simba inevitably becomes king. Sometimes Scar wins; sometimes it is the princess who dies.

          The world is not a magic kingdom, but it is a place where each life, whether lived selfishly or for the benefit of all, whether characterized by love or resentment, whether lofty or lowly, is of inestimable value, and the loss of each of those lives is cause for both sadness and celebration: sadness that they have gone, and celebration that they were. Let’s face reality: the young woman dying from leukemia and the terrorist killed in the drone strike both leave behind mother whose heart, like that of the Tin Man, is breaking.

          It is wonderful to celebrate the joy that comes when goodness wins but let us use our brains to recognize that no happiness is unadulterated and no evil is totally depraved, our hearts to find appreciation and love for each other, and our courage to be be mindful and present, even if it is in sepia-tones Kansas.