What We Can Learn from Disney World
With all of this going on, I want to write about Disney World
These are challenging times. As Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”
The U.S. government has passed what some people are calling the “Let them eat cake!” tax bill. Threats of nuclear proliferation abound. Tensions between countries are tightening. Revelations of sexual harassment are infinite. It seems that no one is exempt. There is a crisis in this country. Yes, there is a crisis in the world. There is a crisis within the heart of humanity.
And with all of this going on, I want to write about Disney World. I know it may seem mighty trivial but I think we all need a little hope right now, so I wanted to offer this reflection:
What Can We Learn From Disney World?
Call me a Grinch. Call me Scrooge! And I will confess and own up to the truth of that name-calling. I have been a Grinch and a Scrooge, not about Christmas, but about Disney World. You see, for some reason, I was a critical snob about Disney World. I was very judgmental about people who spent their hard earned money and their time going to Disney World. Really, Disney World??? And when one of my favorite cousins told me that he and his bride were going to Disney World for their honeymoon, it took the strength of Hercules to keep me from rolling my eyes and laughing.
Fast forward 30 years. This same cousin invited me to come to Orlando and Disney World to join his family for Thanksgiving.
I decided to challenge that judgmental, critical, limiting belief about Disney World. I knew that if anybody could light me up about Disney, it was these cousins. I was bound and determined, profoundly committed to having a good time. I would call on that same Herculean strength to carry me through the long lines, the hordes of people, the crying children. And my cousins would never know that I was a total Grinch. Oh no, I would keep a smile on my face, no matter what happened.
So down I went to Orlando, with my 85 year-old aunt. My cousins and their two children, who are 18 and 22, met us at the airport. So far, so good. I’m still smiling.
The next day we set out for The Magic Kingdom. And WOW…
The moment I walked through the archway onto Main Street, I stepped into liminal space and the magic spell started weaving around me. I felt as if I had fallen through the rabbit hole or a wrinkle in time into the Magic Kingdom. There was a sense of purity and wonder, the fairy tale land. Pure magic.
It was like lucid dreaming with multiple realities co-existing, layered one upon the other. And we could move, at will, between the different realities.
Even the crowd of humanity was magic. People of all ages, races, shapes and sizes. Children, old people, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, babies in strollers. Tee shirts, mini-skirts, blue jeans, shorts, costumes. And the EARS! Ears everywhere. Mickey ears, Minnie ears, Belle ears, Elsa ears, Moana ears, Toy Story Alien ears, Mickey the Sorcerer ears, Olaf ears, Winnie the Pooh ears, R2D2 ears… everywhere…ears. And it was not just the kids wearing ears. All ages of people wore ears! I felt naked… I don’t own (well, didn’t own) one piece of Disney-wear! I was not a member of the club… yet.
Even standing in line was all a part of the experience. We talked with strangers; we talked with each other, played games, marveled silently at the set designs for all the waiting areas; we drank in every moment.
Every time we left the “outside world" and entered into one of the rides, or performances, I felt transported into a different reality. The Small World. Neverland with Peter Pan. Under the Sea with the Little Mermaid. The Haunted Mansion. The Carousel. The Mad Hatter’s Teacups. The Magic Carpet ride. Every single thing was so deeply infused with the magic. Winnie the Pooh. Magic. Pure magic. My face hurt from smiling so much.
Look at where my judgment and cynicism had gotten me.
I have missed out on this magic for so many years. The last animated Disney movie I had seen was The Lion King and that was in 1994! What was wrong with me???
Somewhere, along the way, I had lost the magic. Sure, I had taken my kids to the movies but as soon as they were old enough, I would just drop them at the movie theater and pick them up after the movie. I no longer believed.
I have been told that Disney World is a kind of cult. It may be, but damn, it is a happy cult! I am forever changed. Really, I mean it. My adventure into Disney World has energized me in a new way. Walt Disney is my Guru, my teacher, my inspiration.
I’d say that there are basically two things we need to know to live in this world — both from Disney. It is so simple. First, “It’s a Small World, After All”… This ride was first created for the 1964 World’s Fair and the song was written by the Sherman Brothers in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which influenced the song’s message of peace and the interconnectedness of all humankind. If we truly treated everybody as if they are our next door neighbor, a fellow traveler on this journey in this very small world, there really might be more “happily ever afters”.
Second, Disney inspires us to take the “the hero/heroine’s journey.” Listen to your heart. Every single person has a gift to bring to the world. Listen to the calling that maybe nobody else can hear except you.
Find the courage and commitment to follow the voice of your own soul.
I say throw out all the self-help books and follow the lead of Moana, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Miguel in Coco, Elsa in Frozen and Simba in The Lion King. They can all show us the way.
As you can see, I am now a convert. No, I did not buy Mickey Ears or a Minnie costume, complete with shoes, but I do “believe” in a whole new way.
I believe in magic. I believe in the magic of being alive and being human, with all its ups and downs. I believe in the creative process and in the importance of it…for individuals and for humanity. I believe that connecting to the streams of humanity is a powerful and healing force. I believe, even more, that separation, through cynicism and judgment, creates pain in this world.
Plain and Simple: I believe.
So, now I am back home. The chaos of the TV’s evening news still roars. The noise is getting louder. The world is spinning faster. Nothing has really changed out there. But here, inside of me? I still hold the light of the magic.