At some point in your life, you’ve heard something spoken from an unexpected source that completely alters the course of your day for the better. An unpredictable combination of words said at just the right pitch and volume catches your ear; cause and effect play to your favor, and a sequence of events whose origins you will never know has culminated in the perfect words slipping unobstructed into your ear at just the right time. A social Rube Goldberg machine — a game of Mouse Trap which ends not in a cage dropping, but one being lifted.
I heard that today. Some incomprehensible mathematic equation played out in the universe around me, and for no particular reason, words that should be meaningless to me, words that at any other time would have seemed banal and unworthy of note, were so pure in their sentiment and simplicity that they stopped me mid-step. They hit my heart before my head. The waves of sound had already paid in full, passed the velvet ropes, and gained admission to my auditory canal. They were vibrating their hearts out on the dance floor of my eardrum, but they hadn’t made it to the V.I.P. lounge yet. I felt the presence of the words well before my brain had actually processed them.
“That kid I was reading the book to was the best kid!”
One sentence overheard as I passed two children talking in a bookstore. I’d describe the little boy who said it for you, but I didn’t really see him. (I was kind of curious, but then I imagined being surrounded by a mob of parents and store security as I tried to explain, “I’m not being creepy, I just wanted to observe your son so I could give a detailed description of him to strangers on the internet!”)
To you, that short little sentence that affected me so substantially probably means nothing. You can’t hear the tone and inflection. Even if you could though, even if you were right there next to me, it would probably make no difference. It isn’t what you needed today. It was what I needed though, and I’ll try to explain why.
Each and every word was spoken with the utmost enthusiasm and positivity. There was a story there, at least to me. I’m not a parent, so I am a terrible judge of age, but this kid was still pretty young. The act of reading to another child was probably a pretty big deal for him, and you could tell by the subtle note of pride in the first half of his remark that it was a memorable moment. He had found a way to connect with someone by offering a skill he had, he made a friend by being of service and sharing what he knows. He was in a bookstore, discovering that the power of storytelling can bring people together and form unexpected bonds.
It was the way he said “best” that really caught me, though. I thought about it later, my mind desperately trying to add a sense of negativity to the situation. I had only heard the one line, after all. What if there was some horrendous followup I missed? “That kid I was reading the book to was the best kid! We always laugh so hard at his jokes about the disabled!”
Try as I may, there was no malice, sarcasm, or negative sentiment to be found. He was simply but passionately happy about the existence of this other tiny human being he had the opportunity to share an experience with.
In the midst of my midday anxiety and overwhelming doubts about our world and the nature of humanity, this centered me. This reminded me of the best when my thoughts couldn’t escape the worst.
This was my magical moment.
In the Disney community, I’ve heard a range of descriptions for what constitutes a "magical moment." Generally, people reserve it for those times when Disney brings something unique to its guests; when a cast member in a Disney Park singles out an individual or family for a rare experience, making them feel special and appreciated, oftentimes directed at those who look like they could really use it. There are some truly heartwarming examples of this, and it happens on a frequent basis. It isn’t just good PR either; the opportunity to be part of these moments is why many cast members suffer the low pay of many positions within the parks — they really do care.
A problem arises though, when we feel entitled to these magical moments. When, after spending countless hours (and countless dollars) planning and arranging our trips — only to be confronted by long lines, expensive up-charges, and Florida’s enveloping swamp blanket of humidity — we sit in frustration wondering where the magic is.
Sometimes we get greedy for the magic. We see a cast member cheering up a family with fastpasses or buttons and we want to get in on that action. The irony, of course, is that the act of making demands lessens the magic that comes with spontaneity.
The idea of what makes a magical moment is, after all, all about perspective. Disney may provide it, but it doesn’t own magic. We do. Every human being occupying this tiny ball of rocks and gas hurtling through the cosmos has the inherent ability to produce that same sorcery at will. People are making magic right now all over the world as I write this, from schoolyards to prison cells; in hospitals, in war-zones, in gutters.
So if you truly want a magical moment at Disney — make one. Along with tales of cast members going the extra mile to spread joy to Disney Park customers, you’ll often hear other stories: anecdotes about times when a park guest goes out of their way to help another.
I’ll give you two situations, and you can decide which is more magical:
We had planned our entire trip with the idea that we’d ride Avatar Flight of Passage as a family, but just as our scheduled window was coming up my wife started to feel ill. We headed back to the resort and she ended up vomiting and sleeping for the next 3 days. On our last day we tried to catch it before we had to leave for our flight, but the wait was even longer than usual. A cast member heard my wife almost in tears apologizing to us, and said she could get us into the Fastpass line if we still had enough time before going back to the hotel. We made it just in time, and we got to go on Flight of Passage and still make arrive on schedule for our actual flight.
When we were heading back to our car in the Epcot parking lot, the skies started to open and what was sunny five minutes ago became a torrential downpour. We saw a family get caught in the middle of it — they had no umbrellas, a grandmother in an ECV, and the cover on their stroller wasn’t protecting their little boy from the sideways Florida rain. We ran up to them as fast as we could and shielded them with our own umbrellas, walking the entire way to their car. They were so thankful about it that we got energized by the experience, and we waited around for a while longer in the storm in case anyone else needed the same assistance. No one did, but it was just nice being out there in the middle of a parking lot in the rain, laughing with my family and trying to do something nice.
Both those stories have a bit of magic to them, but there is one important difference. The second one is a memory for two families. Doing something kind when it is unexpected, being of service to those around you, that is a bonding moment. The kind of moment that makes us forget about how angry and selfish people can be. Life is painful, and being reminded that folks you don’t know will extend some kindness out of nowhere, when you haven’t paid a dime for it, can be enough to make you cease focusing on the rest of the world’s cruelties. Being reminded that we can create those moments ourselves is freeing. Being on either side of that experience is a vacation for the soul, and sometimes we need those to keep us going.
When we use the phrase “Disney Bubble” we are speaking logistically. Disney does not exist in some special dimension where human nature no longer applies. You will see the good that humanity has to offer, but you’ll also see the bad. You’ll hear families shouting at each other in resentment, you’ll see adults acting childish and entitled, you’ll watch grown men cutting in line past kids who have been waiting patiently and respectfully for a brand-new land to open. You’ll see people who ravenously devour Disney magic, but can no longer taste the flavor.
It has been my experience though, that being kind and gracious to others is all the more meaningful when contrasted with selfishness. Responding to insufferable attitudes with more negativity is easy, and it sometimes seems fair, but at the end of the day, it’s just adding more anger to the world. Responding to unsavory attitudes around you with gratitude, joy, and selflessness can be a Herculean task — but that is often what is needed to put the magic back on track.
Look for opportunities to make some magic of your own. Find ways to uplift those having a tough go of it, and increase the joy of those already loving their day.
This advice isn't just applicable to Disney either. You can bring that magic with you, right out of the park. You won't get pinched for shoplifting — Disney has plenty to spare and security doesn't search your heart.
People get addicted to Disney magic, that's why I have a job. The thing is, you can surround yourself with all the merchandise you can afford, watch all the films and television series, read every blog out there, and still wind up magically bankrupt. If I had to guess, I'd say you're looking in the wrong place for it. Keep doing what you're doing (I got bills to pay), but as you take in all that Disney content, remember what makes the parks so special. It's the feelings they bring out of you, the childlike optimism and wonderment at what the world could be if we all acted like life is as special as it's supposed to be. Find that within yourself, and spread it to others on a daily basis.
While trying to come up with a way to properly convey just how meaningful this outlook is, I kept finding myself circling back to the same subject: Bill Murray. More specifically, the "miracle" monologue in my favorite Christmas movie, Scrooged. This is one of the few film scenes that really gets to me, and I emotionally prepare myself when I know it's coming so I don't tear-up in front my viewing companions (because sometimes men are stupid). I realized I couldn't explain the sentiment better myself without accidentally plagiarizing it, so I'll end with the film's brilliant monologue, butchered with my own edits to turn the subject matter from Christmas to Disney (don't hate me Scrooged purists, I swear it's all out of love):
I'm not crazy. It's Disney! It's, it's the one place in the world when we all act a little nicer, we, we, we smile a little easier, we, w-w-we, we, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be! It's magical, it's really, a sort of a magic because it happens every Disney vacation. And if you waste that magic, you're gonna burn for it. I know what I'm talking about. You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You do have to get involved... If you believe in this pure thing, you'll, the magic will happen and then you'll want it to happen again tomorrow! You won't be one of these people who says, "Disney is just a money-grab and it's a fraud." It's not! It can happen every day! You've just got to want that feeling! And if you like it and you want it, you'll get greedy for it. You'll want it every day of your life, and it can happen to you! I believe in it now. I believe it's gonna happen to me now. I'm ready for it! And it's great. It's a good feeling. It's, it's really better than I've felt in a long time. I'm, I'm, I'm ready."
All film images were taken from animation created and owned by The Walt Disney Company, with the notable exception of the concluding image, which as mentioned was taken from the 1988 Christmas classic Scrooged. If you found yourself singing "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" just now, that is a healthy and appropriate response.