I’m an Old Tin Man

In a quest for self-knowledge, the stories that gripped us as children probably say more about who we are than recent artifacts.

I’ve seen the Wizard of Oz more times than I can remember, and each time I see it I’m amazed how much I am drawn to the Tin Man and his quest for a “heart.”
Perhaps the Lion, with his foolishly fearsome fears is funnier, and the Scarecrow’s desire for a brain, a desire I certainly wish more of more people had, is certainly commendable.

Still, it’s the Tin Man that has always been the most powerful character for me.

At first appearance, the Tin Man seems invulnerable, encased in a steel shell with no heart to pierce. Surprisingly, though, he is the most vulnerable of all, vulnerable not to others but to his own tears, which literally cause him to rust in place.

Maybe it is this quality that I find laughable, yet endearing, because even as a child I didn’t like to cry, at least not in front of others. My mother told stories of finding me as a two-year old hiding in the back of the closet crying because I didn’t want anyone to see my cry. Even today I hate to cry in front of others and avoid discussing truly emotional events in my life that are too painful to discuss without tears. For me, crying is too often a painful experience, a wet badge of shame.

I suspect, though, it is the feeling of being unable to love that most draws me to the Tin Man. The Tin Man feels he must have a heart before he is capable of love. As we discover, though, he is perfectly capable of love, risking his life for Dorothy because he loves her. Before he can discover that he has a heart, though, he must love someone and that love must be returned, that and a “testimonial” from the Wizard of Oz.

In real life, there are few chances to risk your life to prove your love and even fewer “testimonials” of love. Colleges give degrees galore to prove that people have “a brain,” even if they don’t, and the Army gives medals to prove soldiers are courageous, or foolhardy, but few colleges grant “Masters of Love.” How, then, do we reassure ourselves that we do, indeed, have a heart, that we are loving and loved?

Perhaps we can’t. Perhaps it is only through a continuous outpouring of love that we can prove to ourselves that we have a heart.

Even more frighteningly, the Tin Man may be right when he says at the end of the movie that he knows he has a heart because it is breaking when Dorothy leaves. Is it only when we are in danger of losing love, or when we lose it, that we can be sure that we are, indeed, capable of love?

Or, could it be that, like Dorothy, we can discover we have a heart by clicking our heels three times and realizing that we must have a heart if we truly love ourselves? Of course, we can only prove we love ourselves if we share that love with someone else—personally, I think I need a Gavin fix.

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