Not too long ago, we humans around the world began to hear of a virus that seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. Soon after, we began to realize that we were actually living in it. As we made our preparations to stay closer to home, we found that our basic necessities were becoming scarce and suddenly, we were scrambling to find toilet paper. The next round of reality checks came when we closed our schools and had to find creative ways to teach our children from home. Then, going to work became an issue, and we had to get creative to find ways of still being able to work. I think we can all agree that in spite of all of these challenges, it truly hit us when our beloved Disney Parks shut down. Oh yes. I watched it live when the President of Walt Disney World, Josh D’Amaro, Mickey and the Gang stood up on the platform of the train station at the Magic Kingdom, waving to all of the guests on the last night before Walt Disney World closed. Yes, I cried. Like many of you, whether you are a casual fan, die hard Disney aficionado, or somewhere in between, we all realized at that moment that the situation, “just got real.” After putting on the brave mom face and channeling my inner warrior to get through these obstacles, telling my kids everything was going to be just fine, I found myself in despair – – Disney is the last bastion of hope. . . our Happy Place . . . and now it was gone.
We all settled into our new-found seclusion as words like “quarantine,” and “lockdown,” became our new normal. Watching the nightly news didn’t seem to help much either. It’s during that time that I found myself looking for inspiration and hope. What was supposed to be a couple of weeks, turned into months. The magical trips I had so diligently helped my clients plan were being cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled again, and rescheduled. I felt their pain with each announcement and each change, spending hours just talking with them until our conversations turned into more personal ones. Each and every one of them had a unique story as to why they wanted to take their trips, and why they loved Disney. It was through their stories that I rediscovered some of that much needed hope. Going to the Magic Kingdom was exciting, but it was the idea of Walt Disney, himself, that gave it all meaning and what made everything feel familiar – – like being “home,” and being welcomed by a comforting parent with open arms and a warm embrace.
If it’s one thing we all immediately recognized, it was the lack of physically being with one another. Yet, we found ways to stay in touch via video conferencing. We checked up on one another to ensure everything was still o.k., and we became more charitable with our time and resources to help each other out. As Walt said, “There is great comfort and inspiration in the feeling of close human relationships and its bearing on our mutual fortunes – – a powerful force, to overcome the ‘tough breaks’ which are certain to come to most of us from time to time.” We discovered that in spite of being isolated in our homes, we could still reach out and bond with our fellow humans in far deeper and meaningful ways that we didn’t realize were possible. Instead of being pushed apart, we became bonded in the face of a common, unseen enemy, and we began to appreciate each other a little more.
Perhaps one of Walt’s greatest quotes about life is when he said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Now, I hardly think Walt had a pandemic in mind when he said this, but he certainly experienced some great hardships in his life which shaped the man he became. Walt took those hardships and looked at them as an opportunity and a reason to move forward and onto new adventures. After all, if he hadn’t lost his treasured Oswald to Charles Mintz, he would never have created our beloved Mickey. Walt described this defining low point of his life when he said, “He popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner.”
If we take the time to look at our circumstances differently, we begin to see the opportunity to make something new. For example, when schools closed, so many of us found ourselves struggling to keep up with helping our kids with assignments and various subjects. We found a new appreciation for our teachers, but we also started to identify where our children really needed help, and perhaps, even what our children were missing from us. We have been given insight and the opportunity to teach our children about behavior, respect, expectations, science through cooking, problem solving through play, or compassion and responsibility by helping around the house. If we really think about it, how many times have we wished we could just roll out of bed and work from home in our pajamas? That was a projection of our future as technology developed, and we just got to experience it in our present! Perhaps we have created a new way of balancing work and home life because of it! We’ve certainly been, “kicked in the teeth,” but we are becoming more creative in our problem solving, and more resilient in the face of adversity.
Many people think of Walt Disney as a great man with a big imagination. Although this is true, he was also a realist. He once said, “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” Walt was no stranger to the hardships of life on a national and international level. In fact, Walt lived through two global pandemics – – the Spanish Flu in 1918 which claimed the lives of 50 million people worldwide, and the Asian Flu in 1957 which claimed about 1.1 million souls. He lived through two World Wars, the Korean War, and saw the beginning of the Vietnam War. Yet, he also witnessed the first long distance phone call, Charles Lindberg’s first non-stop transatlantic flight, the first American satellite (Explorer I) launch, and color television. Out of all of his experiences, he chose to focus on the hopes and dreams of the future, and to create something new and innovative. Walt had a passion and a knack for trying to solve contemporary problems, which was his original plan for the building of EPCOT. In the 1950’s, Walt collaborated with NASA’s Werner von Braun to create films that educated people on the basics of space flight, spurning the imaginations of every American as we moved towards the dream of landing men on the moon. The realities of life gave him the impetus to solve complex issues, creatively, and he showed us that ideas and dreams are worth working for.
The creation of Disneyland and Walt Disney World came from what has, and continues to be, the greatest problem with our world today – – the lack of quality family time, which has plagued our society for over a century, and is no more an issue today than it was when Walt sat on that park bench in Griffith Park. When interviewed about it, Walt said, “Disneyland really began when my two daughters were very young. Saturday was always Daddy’s Day, and I would take them to the merry-go-round and sit on a bench eating peanuts while they rode. And sitting there alone, I felt there should be something built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together.” Hence came the creation of Disneyland – – a place where families could actually play, explore, learn, dream and solve problems together, regardless of what else is going on in the world around us.
Therein lies our hope . . . the evidence that castles can be built, stories do come to life, and the manifestation of one man’s dream becomes the beacon of light in dark times. The reopening of Walt Disney World carries so much more meaning than a vacation spot returning to, “business as usual.” Many of us call this place “home” for a reason. When we see that Castle at the end of Main Street, the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, or read the dedication plaque in front of Disneyland, we are welcomed to a safe place that is void of politics and negativity. Instead, we are transported to a place where we can let our inner child take over once again, and imagine a future where problems are solved, but solved together as the human race.
“To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
- Walt Disney, Disneyland Dedication Speech, 1955