Last weekend Michelle and I went to Orlando to visit my daughter Madison at the University of Central Florida. We would normally go up to visit on Parent’s Weekend, but our schedule was full, so we had our very own Parent’s Weekend. Madison made us a packet that outlined all the activities with pictures and explanations. She planned out all of the events, what we would do and where we would go. She was concerned because she didn’t want to put me in an uncomfortable situation, so she asked me about what I could do and what I couldn’t do. When we arrived, we received a tour of her new apartment and then we had the presentation of the packet with a detailed description.
On Saturday she had us eating dinner in Disney Springs, because she wanted to take us to see the Rosen Campus for Hospitality Management. This is a branch campus of UCF specifically for Hospitality Management courses. Madison takes classes there, which is a half-hour drive from the main campus. It is located right by Universal, Sea World and Disney, in the heart of Hospitality Management heaven! Since we were already in the area, she thought that a trip to Disney Springs would be warranted. After all, we had to eat and what better place to eat than at one of the fine dinning establishments found at Disney Springs.
We started going to Disney Springs back in the 90’s when it was Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island. In fact, I have a picture from 1997 of us sitting outside of the Rain Forest Cafe, looking over at the skeleton of the Cirque D’ Sole theater. It was being built in a new section that was called The West Side. The area has grown by leaps and bonds since then. We found a place to park on the first floor of one of the new parking garages and we headed through the walk way and down the escalator to all the shops. Since we arrived a little early, we decided to go into The World of Disney to do some browsing. We entered through a doorway that wasn’t even there back in the 90’s, it had been the back of the building and now it was facing a busy street of shops and restaurants. When we entered the store my eyes were struck by the huge, half-moon wall to my right that was filled with souvenirs. My mind immediately went back to 1997 and our first trip to Disney World with my daughter McKenzie.
McKenzie was three years old the first time we came to Disney World as a family. Michelle and I had visited by ourselves, but this was the beginning of our family Disney experience. One day, while browsing shops in Downtown Disney, McKenzie became very unsatisfied with our chosen course of action in that moment. And, like so many other three year olds, both before her and after her, she decided to let us and everyone else, with ears to hear, know about her dissatisfaction with our chosen course of action in that moment. So, with a three year old melting down in the middle of the biggest Disney store in the world, what was a couple of young parents to do? Buy the screaming child something in hopes that it would shut her up of course! Well, there just so happened to be this large half-moon shaped wall filled with plush Disney characters right in front of us. We informed McKenzie that if she stopped crying, we would buy her one of these wonderful plush Disney characters. It worked! She stopped crying, we whipped out a credit card and paid way too much for a plush Disney character. Yet, the peace that it gave us, in that moment, was priceless.
I think you might know where I am going with this story. This was the very same wall in the very same room that I was staring at last Saturday when we entered The World of Disney. My mind raced back to that day twenty two years ago and I stopped in the middle of that busy store, looking at that wall, and I cried. How weird must I have appeared to the other people all around me? A grown man, standing in the largest Disney store in the world, in the happiest place on earth, crying. I wasn’t crying because I was sad. These were tears of joy and honor. These were tears that can only come from a deep place of reverence and remembrance. These tears came because once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again (Moonlight Graham from the movie Field of Dreams).
I also realized, in that moment, that these tears came from a place of thankfulness because there had been a time, in the not-to-distant past, that I wondered if I would ever be able to enjoy Disney World again. Realizing the possibility of losing something is the only time that we ever truly appreciate it. The art is worth so much more after the artist dies. I was crying in The World of Disney because I was so thankful for the last twenty two years of family memories in that special place. I was also crying out of thankfulness because I know that, because of the gift of a new heart, we will have years and years of new memories in that most special of places. It all came crashing down on me in that moment, in that place because I know I almost lost that forever. But what once was almost lost is now definitely found!