Something a friend posted got me thinking about long-term misunderstandings.

Several years ago, I took an excellent mountaineering trip into the glaciated backcountry of Alaska. Our mode of travel was randonee skis. We had to observe precautions for crevasses. This combination of factors meant that I spent literally days more or less by myself, separated from my ropemates by eighty or so feet of rope, as we skied across improbable distances on huge glaciers. The length of rope was necessary in order to have the best chance to react if one of your ropemates went into a hidden crevasse; you’d have to instantly clue in and self-arrest or be scraped along the ice and snow by the weight of your plummeting ropie and plunged into the crevasse yourself, to be encased forever several hundred feet below the surface. Actually, your remains would be slowly pulverized and eventually make it to the sea in molecular form after several centuries, but you get the idea.

The landscape was staggeringly beautiful but changed slowly, allowing great gulfs of time for reflection.

One day I was thinking about ‘The Wizard of Oz’, replaying the movie in my head. When the Witch of the West does her skywriting, she writes ‘Surrender Dorothy’. I realized that there is no comma in the statement; the entire meaning of the movie changed for me at that moment. The witch is not speaking to Dorothy, but to the Wizard. That completely alters the character of his change of heart; I had always seen him as a bumbling con man but essentially good, as per his character before the storm. The missing comma reveals him as a weak and wicked, content to sacrifice the young girl to avoid a confrontation with the witch.

I was crushed.