"The world is not Disneyland, Hannah." Over the past twenty years, my dad's words have continued to randomly echo in my mind. At the time, they made me pause. Not because I'd thought the world really was a magical kingdom and I was shattered to be told otherwise, but because even back then I lived in the cracks where light shone through and made beautiful colors and patterns, if I could just imagine hard enough. It made me infinitesimally sad to think that Dad didn't seem to want to try to find the Happy around him. While I thought he was too much of a realist, he probably thought his teenage daughter was too much of a Pollyanna. I'm sure he was just trying to set me up to be able to face disappointment and heartache. And I love him for wanting to prepare me. I'm afraid, however, that I've never been willing to give up on magic and happiness; they're my souvenirs of this lifetime. And I have to admit, in these unsettling, violence-filled times, that I cling to them ever tighter. I will never give up the hope of what can be.
My husband and I just surprised our kids (ranging in ages from one to thirteen) with a trip to Disneyland--their first time ever. To live the experience through their eyes was an absolute wonder. Our boys stayed true to their fearless roots and rode all the fast roller coasters and big-drop rides with a wild glee. Our eldest daughter, embracing her fantasy-filled imagination and peaceful nature, was most drawn to Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and It's a Small World. Our youngest, Miss O, wanted to be a barnacle on the porthole of the submarine ride. I think she wanted to swim with the fishies. Or maybe just lick the window clean. Either way, she was one happy girl. It was a magical experience to see the fun memories being shaped inside each of them.
Best of all, it wasn't just the rides, the ice cream treats, or even the rare pleasure of staying in a hotel that made such an impression. It was the people. So many people--but in the best of ways. Women with beautiful hijabs, men sporting full beards and a few with handlebar mustaches, boys with dark hair plaited into long lines down their backs, girls wearing the costumes of their favorite Star Wars characters; moms in running shoes and yoga pants, grandparents fanning themselves in the shade. And everyone together, for the sole purpose of enjoying time with their families. Skin dark and light, tattooed and plain, covered or exposed. Languages diverse. Customs and beliefs: unknown. But smiles were universal, as were waves, giggles, and the look in parents' eyes as they watched their young, let their small ones run wild, or tried to corral their youths' enthusiasm.
My thirteen-year-old daughter spent the whole of a nighttime parade playing with a boy, maybe four years old, who was seated on his father's shoulders. Not a word of English from the boy, not a word of Spanish from my daughter but, nonetheless, sharing joyful games of peek-a-boo, silly faces, and belly laughter.
At breakfast in Tomorrowland, we were seated next to an Asian family, mother, father, three older boys, and they got to talking to our boys about the birds that were looking hopeful for food. The dad had his teaching hat going on--something I love to witness--and asked a few open-ended questions about these birds, and then I noticed a wallet lying on the ground between everyone's feet, so I interrupted. He broke into a wide relaxed grin and said, "Oh, thank you so very much. This is the third time it has gotten away from me, and each time someone has returned it. It is wonderful. There are such honest people. It must have to do with being here, in this place. The people are good."
Where we live in Idaho, we don't get much diversity; we don't have a wide variety of languages, skin tones, or people in general. This trip was an amazing opportunity for our kids to see how people are all just fellow humans living with their families, trying to do whatever they do in this world. Because that was the common thread connecting all of the different park visitors. We could share smiles with the mom who was enjoying her tot's version of a song; we could commiserate with the dad soothing his child using words we didn't understand, we could laugh with the families who were just as confused as we were about where the right line began. Of course, there were the rudes, the meanies, the grumps. But did it matter? No. We get to find our own paths in our lives. That's why I focus on those cracks that let the sun shine through. It's not to blind myself to the fact that bad stuff exists, it's to help our children know that there is hope and potential in us all and in the world around us. Everyone has a choice in how they act, how they behave, and how they respond.
The world may not be Disneyland, but it has the potential to be the best parts of it. Our lives can certainly offer a rainbowed kaleidoscope of experience and hope to the people who surround us. And I will continue to flit through the cracks, doing all I can to light the way for my children. Even if I do it wearing round, black ears on top of my head.