I can recall a time when I was in Disney. Of course Disney in itself is a miraculous place. Ever been?
They have rides and reasons to believe in fairytales. They have displays that are inspiring and heartfelt. They have “It’s A Small World,” which has been around for as long as I can remember. They have Minnie and Mickey, Goofy, and Donald.
This is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth. And I suppose it is. I suppose it would have been happy for me if I was there with different people.
I was at the tail end of a loveless marriage. And to those that know about things like this, there is nothing as cold as a shared bed with two people that couldn’t wish to be farther apart. I can remember the cold real-estate between us. The space between us in bed at night was as cold as Antarctica. And God forbid we actually touched in the middle of the night. This was disastrous. I was on my side of the bed and she was on hers. We were mainly cold towards each other. Nothing was ever pleasant anymore.
Down the stairs was my daughter’s room, in which I knew this relationship was about to change. I knew there would be difficulty for both me and her. She was only two-years old at the time but I knew the trouble was in the mail.
As a last effort, we planned to go to Disney for a two week vacation. This was supposed to be a chance to bring us together. We were supposed to go as a family. We were supposed to bond and see if there was anything at all that could either help us connect and rekindle a sense of warmth.
It was clear to me that this was not in the cards. It was even clearer to me when my wife (at the time) invited another couple to come with us. This might have been fine if it weren’t for the fact that I could not stand the other couple. They had a daughter that was the same age as mine. She was a good kid. She was fine, I guess, but the mother and father were not my kind of people. As it was, the tension in my family was uncomfortable. Now, add another couple. Add them and their drama. Add the fact that I didn’t like them or want to be around them and it was becoming clear to me that this vacation would not go very well.
And I was right too.
We got to Orlando and the room wasn’t right. The beds weren’t right. The other couple had their issues and me, all I thought was, “Seriously? This is the trip that was supposed to save my marriage?”
I will save the tension and skip the arguments and the basic discomforts. I will skip the cold tension at night when it was just us in the room. There were two beds in the room. I slept in one. My child and her mother slept in the other.
Everything was a hassle. We had to wait in lines. And some of the lines were long. Some of the trips to the gift shops were stressful. In fact, the whole goddamn trip was stressful.
Finally, on our last day at Disney, we decided to go to one side of the park and the other couple took their daughter to a different side. We took a walk to see where Mickey Mouse lived. We went to Donald Duck’s house. We saw where Minnie Mouse lives and Daisy Duck. Goofy has his own house and Pluto, well, I suppose Pluto has special needs, which is why he can’t talk and Goofy can. Either way, Pluto lived with Mickey.
We waited in line for about 45 minutes to take pictures with Minnie, Mickey, and Goofy, which was fine because there was no tension. Things were okay. After several days of arguing and tension, at last, there was a moment of peace.
We took our pictures with the characters and then we waited on another line to choose which pictures we wanted the most. The gentleman behind that counter reminded me that Disney is still a beautiful place. The man behind was impersonating different voices and making my daughter laugh. And this was nice to see. I was literally miserable in the happiest place on earth and finally, there was something to be happy about.
However, unfortunately, there was a problem with the computer system.
The man behind the counter explained the problem was a big, “Uh-oh!” and to which, I explained, “Listen, I can’t take another Uh-oh! What’s the problem here?”
I told the man about the troubles we had with the hotel and the room. I told him about all the problems we had and with a smile, the man offered, “Sir, this is Disney. I want to make sure you understand that we are here to make you happy.”
We were offered to take pictures with the Disney princesses. And then there was Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too. We were allowed to cut the entire line and hide in the back where the VIP section was. And this place was beautiful.
There was artwork on the walls and beautiful carpeting. We stood in a line, which was not a line at all, and finally, I felt the Miracle of Disney. I was happy to be taken care of. I thought to myself, “This is what Disney means.” Little did I know that I was only moments away from learning the true meaning of Disney.
A woman came in with her little boy. He was a cute kid. He was happy as ever and with a smile that could never be matched. He was waiting in line to take a picture with the Princesses too.
The Mother looked at me with a smile and said “Hello”
I asked if something happened to their pictures.
The Mother replied, “No.”
I explained that we had been waiting in line all week long. But the computer lost our pictures so we were allowed the VIP treatment.
The Mother explained how they never waited on lines anywhere in any of the Disney Theme Parks. I explained that we should have hung around with them. Meanwhile, her little boy was standing right next to her. He was happy as could be. Blessed as could be. Grateful as ever, and waiting for his moment to stand with the Princesses and take a picture,
After all my New York sarcasm, I explained that we should have hung around them all week. Then I asked the Mother, “How come you guys don’t have to wait in any lines?”
There was a brief pause, which was literally only a second. But in that second, something miraculous happened. Something huge and life changing. Perhaps this is when I noticed the little boy’s shirt. It was a Make A Wish shirt.
In response to why they never had to wait on any lines, the Mother pointed to her son and said, “Because it was his Dream Wish to come to Disney.”
The moment hit me harder than a train. I realized how small I was. I realized that here I am in the happiest place in the world and yet, I am miserable. Meanwhile, this little boy who never hurt anyone, never lied or even had the chance to even skip school; he was dying and all he wanted to do is have the chance to come to Disney and see the Princesses.
Who the hell am I?
This little boy was bigger than me. His wish was bigger than anything I had ever seen. I had to look away from them because the tears in my eyes were beginning to show.
I swear I would have done anything for that kid. I would have moved the world if I could. And here I am, healthy and fine. My child was healthy too. And yet, I was miserable. What right do I have for this?
After going outside, I literally pulled the man from behind the counter and asked him, “That kid. You see that kid?” as I pointed to the little boy. The man behind the counter allowed his face to show emotion. He nodded his head as if to explain, “Yes.” This kid was dying and all he wanted to do is live.
I thought to myself:
What the hell am I doing here?
Why do I take so many things for granted?
I saw this boy and learned the most powerful lesson. I needed to change. I needed to change my perspective. More than anything, I needed to change my life. And so I did.
In a way, the loss of the little boy’s life is something that led me towards earning my own. This was a gift. Or, wait. No. This was a blessing. This changed me and more than anything, this was something I’ll never forget.
Wherever you are.
Thanks for the gift you gave me.
By the way, I’ve been working hard to pay it forward. And I know I am challenged sometimes, but please, try and understand that I’m only half the man that you were.
It’s not easy to be a hero.
And that’s you. A hero!