I’m just back from Disney and have some unexpected impressions to share.
After this recent visit to The Magic Kingdom I read up on the history of one of my most admired childhood cartoon heroes. The idea for Mickey Mouse came to Walt Disney on a train trip from Manhattan to Hollywood. His career had taken a nose dive and he and his brother faced a possible end to their previous small successes if they couldn’t rise above the disastrous, blatant theft of one of their most popular characters – a rabbit named Oswald.
In Walt’s own words, “All we ever intended for him (Mickey Mouse) or expected of him was that he should continue to make people everywhere chuckle with him and at him. We didn’t burden him with any social symbolism, we made him no mouthpiece for frustrations or harsh satire. Mickey was simply a little personality assigned to the purposes of laughter.”
After a few faltering steps, Mickey was off and running generating laughter and endearment around the world. From this bit of information I realized Mickey symbolizes hope, dreams come true, perseverance, and love that grew out of one man’s wish to give people the gift of merriment.
When I was 9, the more famous characters at Disneyland in California tended to be elusive. Back then I met Cinderella, Alice from Wonderland and the March Hare, and had my picture taken with one of seven small friends of Snow White, Happy I think it was. A few other characters wandered in the distance and I left my one-day visit with the disappointment of a little girl whose fondest wish was to meet the famous mouse.
In my twenties I had no better luck. A similar smattering of princesses and colorful cartoon pals whisked by on my second visit to Disney’s Magic Kingdom, this time at Disney World in Florida. My heart leapt at the sight of Mickey and Minnie waving from a distant parade float with hundreds of people waving back to them, forming an impenetrable wall between me and the illustrious pair. The reason hope of meeting one little person dressed in a mouse costume (albeit a famous mouse costume) sustained so many spirits, including my own, escaped my comprehension. Why did my mood sag when the hope was not fulfilled?
My initial assumption was that Mickey took me back to a happier time, early childhood before my mother became ill. It made sense I would want to relive those special moments. That alone is reason enough to cry happy tender tears, but when I looked up the history of the mouse and his creator after my most recent visit, there was more, much more. It dawned on me that Mickey and friends, with their cartoon antics, had lifted me out of the dire circumstances of my mother’s illness every Saturday morning the way he had lifted Walt out of the foreshadowing of failure...and now he stood poised to lift me out of the doldrums of a strange and sometimes frightening world.
In keeping with my understanding that everything carries its own energy, Mickey too, I believe, exudes the goodness he stands for. I imagine that whoever is chosen for the honor of wearing the outfit must also radiate the same goodness.
I knew little of his history when tears formed in my eyes as Mickey arrived in his train for opening ceremonies on my first day at the park last week. “Good morning! Good Morning! Sun beams are shinin’ through! Good Morning! Good Morning to you!” One look at his squeaky clean presence and I lost it. The next day Minnie passed through the crowd and tears rolled down my cheeks again. What is going on with me? Each time I entered a ride or watched a performance I remembered from childhood the floodgates opened. If I was a proper adult I’d think “How embarrassing!” but instead, how wonderful to experience some kind of mysterious magic reaching beyond my adult exterior!
With perfect timing this trip occurred during one of the worst weeks I’ve ever known. I’d been fending off bouts of sadness, trying to maintain my usual bright outlook, working hard to not get swallowed up in months of devastating current events and the worst prelude to a Presidential election I’ve ever witnessed. If ever I needed magic it was now. Though at the beginning of the visit I did not think it possible, Mickey and friends opened a window where glimmers of cheer could drift in with a wave of their magic wands.
One thing stood out as I walked the packed streets of this vibrant fantastic world of Disney. There were no political signs. No rallies with candidates shooting disparaging words at one another. No religious orders defending their claims as the one true and only way to God. No people indulging in desperate disputes on social media or in town hall meetings. If anyone cared one way or another about ethnicity or sexual preference or who won the election or who earned their ticket to heaven and who did not, they let it go here in a poof of fairy dust. Everyone was there in pursuit of magic and joy, if not their own then for their children. There were smiles, kindnesses aplenty, patience in long lines, and laughter, LOTS of laughter. Laughter that would have made the wizard who initiated it all very proud.
I came to the stunning conclusion that if humans can let all the strife and hostility go in a magical kingdom for a day or a week, they can let it go indefinitely. If we humans are capable of the incredible feats of technological magic that stream from every attraction in that park I am confident we can love better, fight less, listen more, seek to understand each other, and together envision a brighter future for ourselves and our children. Though these thoughts came later I am certain this is what Mickey intended for me to pass on to you when my lifelong dream came true…
Due to some ticketing mix-ups our whole gang was treated to a private audience with the Mouse with the Most. My eyes rimmed with tears one last time when we entered his chamber and he said, “Hi everybody!” He was every bit as real as stars and sunbeams and wishes that rise up from the heart. I whispered to him that I’d waited to meet him since I was nine and he thanked me for coming. After a few photos I thanked him too. Though I didn’t say exactly what I was thanking him for, on some level I think he knew it was for resuscitating my spirit. Maybe he saw it in my eyes because just as I turned to go he reached out and gave me the best, the warmest, the most sincere magical mouse hug anyone could ever imagine.
I’m thankful for one blessed idea and the man who nurtured it into being. Now let’s turn the tables and give him and his little mouse companion what they have given so many millions of children and children-at-heart: smiles and laughter and a land that welcomes every person and nurtures every spirit.
Be the change and laugh as often as you can.