We all have our happy places. You know, the ones that make us feel safe and content, as though the pressures and evil of the world can't touch us. For many of us here, that place can be found within the property lines of Disney Parks and Resorts.
On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, we took a drive northwest on the way out of the state of Florida and encountered an unexpected brush with the damage and destruction of Hurricane Michael. Having only hit the south-eastern coasts of the United States a mere six weeks earlier, with the storm barely making the international news, we were utterly shocked at what we saw.
Houses were destroyed; homes, cars, and gardens ripped into pieces in the wake of a destructive storm cell that we later found claimed the lives of 43 people. We watched on as a lucky few were in the midst of having their power finally reconnected after weeks without it; many others would remain without it for several more weeks to come.
There we were, heart-broken for these poor people who had been left with nothing, having just enjoyed the luxury of Walt Disney World ourselves not 48 hours earlier.
It's the Disney Bubble that makes us feel invincible; untouchable to the outside world. We crave it as part of the escapism that is a Disney vacation for most of us. And some of us even fight to keep our bubble intact at all times no matter what the cost.
I recently observed the comment section on a news post from the beautiful Jackie Gailey. It was covering the news of a tragic incident that occurred on a major road involving a group of people headed for Walt Disney World. It was a horrific story and one that would bring a tear to the eye of anyone that considered what this might be like if it was their own family. But what ensued was an incredible level of pushback, with many readers seemingly disgusted that this dose of reality had interfered with their magical Disney-planning fantasy world. Some commenters even stated quite plainly that this sort of story wasn't what they came to The Dis to see. If their destination hadn't been the same one as the rest of ours, maybe I would agree.
I took a moment, as I always do when encountering a point of view so counterintuitive to my own. It's not that I wanted to see such a sad and emotional story on the Dis news. It certainly wasn't that I wanted to feel a tiny portion of the pain that the families of those victims would have felt, even though there was no escaping it once you read the story. It was more the fact that these people had lost their lives trying to do the exact same thing I had done with my children just weeks before. I felt that out of respect I almost had to hear their story, feel a piece of their heartache, and then follow it up with a deep-seated appreciation for how lucky I was that my family were not in that car and had made it safely in and out of our dream vacation. I owed it to them to bear witness to that pain, and in turn vow not to take my good fortune for granted.
I wondered if maybe it was me that was over-thinking it. I even sat on the idea of this article for several weeks, considering whether I was seeing it clearly. For me as a mother, if this had been my family and the peers that shared my common passion for Disney turned away from my tragedy in the preservation of their own fantastical adventures to come? If people ignored an opportunity to learn from my loss to instead complain about its existence on a website where we were all headed to the same place? How worthless and insignificant would that leave a person feeling? How can one imply that another human being losing everything that matters to them is a mere inconvenience to their daily internet reading routine?
In my mind, it’s all about balance. It’s important to respect the tragedy in the world in order to do justice to living a life that is free from that particular burden. Don’t we owe it to each other to share in our loss just as we would in our happiness?
Switching coasts, another example of this used to be the homeless population of Anaheim that often congregated near the crossing of Harbour Boulevard. By this point in our trips, we were about to fly home and never had money to spare. Usually having already fallen back on my old tricks of buying apples and taking them into the park for lunch, I’d be doing just about anything to avoid racking up a huge pile of debt to go home to. Even so, I would never look away. If your gaze happens to make contact with someone else's, smile. It doesn’t cost anything and is part of a basic level in common decency that we are all entitled to.
Now maybe some of them were there just to take money from tourists, maybe others are just looking for a little human interaction, some desperate to find a way to feed their children at night, I don’t know — but the truth is, it doesn’t matter. We are all a product of our circumstances and just because these people were seeking shelter outside of Disney instead of visiting the parks didn't make them any less worthy of respect. Accepting their situation is part of what makes you appreciate your own.
Looking back at our experience in November with the Hurricane Michael wreckage, not only was it a reminder of how lucky we really are, but it was also a very grounding lesson for our children to see that Disney, and travel in general, is a privilege — one that needs to be respected and valued. Not everyone can do what we have done through no fault of their own. We are lucky.
The Disney Bubble can be an absolutely wonderful state of mind. It wraps you up like a warm hug and whispers in your ear that everything is going to be okay. But just remember that when the outside forces of the world come creeping on in, it is those of us lucky enough to be in the bubble that have the biggest responsibility to acknowledge it. To balance out the forces of the universe and remind ourselves of just how fortunate we are, don't turn away.
Shed a tear with the mother that just lost her child, be outraged for the people that haven't had power for six weeks, and don't forget to smile at the homeless man on the corner who deserves a moment of kindness. It may not change anything for these people, but it will promote a new level of self-awareness and mindfulness, more so than turning your back and pretending it didn't happen. On the other hand, you never know, it might just contribute to the strength and courage that these people in hard times so desperately need to carry on. You'll only find out when it happens to you.