Defying Gravity

by Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, November 2012)

I am a fan of the musical “Wicked.” To me, it is much more than the back-story for the characters of the land of Oz, but a real story about identity, the seeing and embracing of who one is, and the power of identity in loving another, even at the cost of sacrifice.

One of the pivotal songs of the musical comes at the end of the first act. The song is entitled, “Defying Gravity.” During it, Elphaba, whom we know commonly as the wicked witch of the west, decides it is time for her to fly for the first time. Yet, for her, it is more than just flying; it is about resisting the status quo that is wreaking havoc and destruction on the citizens of Oz, particularly those who are different or unique; it is about change.

I work with people who want change for their lives. Generally it is a change in the way they relate to one another, or a change in the way they see themselves. There is great desire for life no longer to stay the same. Yet as we work together, they find there is a great resistance to change, particularly from within themselves. There is a force that says to stay the same, not to change; to maintain, to hold on to the way things are. These people have come face-to-face with one of the most powerful forces of the universe—the power of normal.

“Normal” has numerous definitions, but in this context, it means the usual, the way things have always been, and thus, the known way of doing things. Because it is a known way, the normal is familiar to us, and thus it has its own comfort. It is comfortable because at least we know how to live this way, which makes us feel confident, or at least competent. Yet, as others have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, normal can be its own brand of insanity, especially when any outside observer would say, “that needs to change.” But change does not occur, because it does not feel normal. And normal too often, because it is familiar, is safe.

Who of you have been shopping with a friend in order to update your wardrobe, and you knew it needed to happen because you were tired of wearing the same old frumpy clothing? When you try on something that is a bit more current, more chic, more stylish, you receive feedback that you look good. Except there is a problem, it is not comfortable. I’m not talking about the discomfort that comes from clothes that are absolutely inappropriate for your body type; but rather the discomfort that comes because it is a new sensation; it doesn’t feel normal. So the attempt at updating the wardrobe is abandoned because it’s just doesn’t feel right.

Normal is a powerful force, like the force of gravity. Gravity can be a good thing—keeps us from just floating away. It brings structure. But if gravity were never resisted, trees would not grow tall, flowers would never bloom upright, babies would never giggle with delight with the first steps. It takes great power for a sprout to break the boundaries of ground and shoot skyward in order to bring its blossom to bare. And sometimes change in the way we live with others and with how we see ourselves needs to break the bonds of gravity, of normal, in order to become that which we were designed to be.

It took courage for Elphaba to defy gravity, to resist normal; no longer to conform to her world but be transformed through renewal. It is called growth; it involves change.

Who of you is willing to defy gravity?
To talk further about growth, change, and creating a new normal, please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact us via our website. Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama.