Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Here I Ramble About Old Days at Disney and Spiritual Lessons I Learned

Disney World has been billed as the happiest place on earth. I've been there enough to know this is absolutely not true. During my several family vacations to the Mecca of Mice, I've endured extreme heat, hurricane force wind and rain, surly park employees, cranky guests, long lines, bad food, over-priced beverages, broken rides, crowded shuttles, hotel room mix-ups, and crying children. My wife almost had to throw down with an angry woman who wouldn't stop harassing her. I nearly got locked out of a breakfast with the princesses. Our kids used to break down at the end of nearly every day.

We plan to go back in a couple years.

As bad as Disney World can be, it can also be that good.

Watching my children at Disney World is one of the greatest experiences I've ever had. I love the way my son's eyes light up whenever we get close enough to see the "huge golf ball" that signals our arrival at Epcot. It is a riot to watch the two of them hop with anticipation as we wait to enter the park. I'll never forget my daughter's repeated pleas to ride the "mommy-rail" (monorail) one more time. I have a picture on my desk of the four of us getting ready to ride the raft to Tom Sawyer's Island in the Magic Kingdom. Emma is fiddling with her Minnie Mouse ears and Liam is grinning from behind his pacifier which matches his black and red Mickey ears.

One year we went to Disney World in the fall. The convergence of our trip and Halloween made for a very "princessy" autumn. Since Emma was going to be Cinderella for halloween, we decided to go all out and make it the "Year of Cinderella". My mom spent several months sewing an elaborate dress for Emma to wear. When Emma wore it, there was no question about which little girl had the best princess outfit. I couldn't begin to tell you all the details, my fashion sense is not nearly developed enough. I do know that it was blue and shiny. My wife spent the time leading up to our trip working with Emma's hair, preparing it to be fixed precisely like Cinderella's. We found a perfect crown and great slipper-shoes. Finally, the day came for Emma to have breakfast with Cinderella. The rest of us were just extras.

Liam and I almost missed it. Because security had recently been beefed up (due to 9/11), someone had to wait in line to have all our bags searched. Marianne and Emma went on ahead to check in at the castle, Liam and I waited in line.

and waited.

and waited.

Finally, we got through the line and raced through the park at full speed; Liam riding, me pushing. I never knew his stroller could corner like that. We arrived at the palace out of breath, sweaty, and stressed (at least I was, Liam was just sucking on his pacifier playing with his hair). Marianne was stressed too. They were about to close the doors and if we hadn't made it, they weren't going to let us in, even though we had already paid a ridiculous sum of money to reserve our spot. Once we were all there, though, we headed up the winding stairway to the big breakfast.

It wasn't a surprise that Emma was the belle of the ball. Her beautiful dress, fair skin, big eyes, and quiet demeanor made her a big favorite of all the princesses. She didn't really care about any of them though, she was only interested in Cinderella. Liam was only interested in Captain Hook, who was occasionally running past the windows outside.

Little girls are fascinated with Cinderella. I'm trying to figure out why. Disney does a great job of selling Cinderella. Everywhere you go in the Magic Kingdom, you see her. She's at photo-shoots, her picture is all around, and she even has her own song-and-dance show at the castle a couple times each day. As popular as Mickey and Minnie Mouse are, I think Cinderella is likely the most popular Disney character of all time.

Of course, Cinderella pre-dates Walt Disney by hundreds of years. He just animated her. The Cinderella story has been passed on from generation to generation far longer than most fairy tales. Around the world, people know and love the Cinderella story in its many varieties and evolutions.

In America, Hollywood loves the Cinderella story. Rarely does a year go by which doesn't include a movie borrowing the Cinderella story for its plot-line. Why has Cinderella resonated with people throughout the centuries? Partly, it is because little girls like to think that they could be princesses. But I think we love Cinderella because the Cinderella story is our story; and it is God's story.

Most tellings of the Cinderella story open with a great loss. Cinderella's father dies. Although great detail is rarely given to Cinderella's relationship with her father, we know that the loss makes her an orphan. We know that she loved her father deeply. We know that she must now deal with a vast relational vacuum. We know that her life has changed forever, and that the change is not for the better.

We share in this story through Adam and Eve. Through their choice, which we affirm every time we choose to do wrong, we lost our Father. The central relationship we were created to enjoy and participate in was lost to us. To be human is to experience a relational vacuum because we have lost our relationship with our Father. Like Cinderella, this loss was accompanied by a cataclysmic shift in lifestyle for all humanity.

Sometimes, I find myself wondering if things shouldn't be different.
  • I watch the news and feel like I live on the worst planet on earth (hmm. that's an interesting expression).
  • I see stories of neighbors fighting, people being murdered, politicians lying, wars being fought, children starving, and worse.
  • I get depressed.
  • I want things to be different.
Things were different before we lost our Father. Things were better before we came under the foot of the evil step-mother.

The great villain of Cinderella is the step-mother. She is the cause of Cinderella's misery, and is also the impetus behind the harsh new life that has become Cinderella's reality. By forcing Cinderella into a life of constant menial labor, she has taken away her joy, her purpose, and perhaps on some days her will to live.

I have an evil step-mother.

I need to be careful here. I do not really even have a step-mother. I do have a step-mother-in-law. Her name is Jane. She doesn't seem to be evil.

I do have an evil step-mother. Some people might call it sin.

(to be continued...)

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