Every post this week has been dedicated to one of my favorite things, including Gilmore Girls, good stories, a special pair of earrings, the ability to surprise myself, and learning surprising things about other people. As promised, it has all built up to this: the post detailing one of my favorite places on earth, which also happens to be the odd niche that I know a surprising amount of information about.
I can tell you why there are no 90-degree angles in the main entrance.
I can tell you how long the initial construction took.
I can tell you where two pennies are hidden in a weathervane, and the significance of each penny’s year.
I can tell you what the morse code is spelling out at the train station.
And I can tell you that the park is never really finished.
“Here you leave today and enter the world or yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” Here is Disneyland.
It began early. I participated in competitive dance for the extent of my childhood, and every year we would have two competitions at the Disneyland hotel. In middle school I got my first annual pass. By high school my mom and I had been enough times to know every bit of trivia and the best daily route to hit the main attractions. There were afternoons where I would bring homework and study there simply for the ambiance.
The ambiance is the main reason I want to be there at all. Strolling through the streets, I don’t have to think about the outside world. Wafting scents of waffle cones and buttered popcorn satiate my nose, a spectrum of flowers and leafy trees soften every transition from one place to the next. I can mosey from here to there, or scurry if I want. I control the pace of my day and gladly bounce in step with a constant subtle soundtrack. It is a place where I always feel like my true self and I am never insecure about my decisions.
Disneyland is a place to escape and a place to dream. It encourages the simple joys of laughter, playfulness, and time together. Optimism feels easier and hope comes more naturally. The imagination flourishes, encouraged by a sense of adventure and set free without fear.
If this sounds overly romanticized, that’s because it is. Yes there are also multiple screaming children. Yes there are hoards of people. Yes there are lines, and God forbid we have to stand and do nothing for thirty minutes!
But I consider it a special gift that I have nothing I need to do than to stand in line with a companion and enjoy some good old fashioned conversation. We rarely make time for that anymore, and when we do have it we are often distracted by other things.
Believe it or not, I am not naturally optimistic. I was the epitome of a hysterical child, and then I became a depressingly dramatic teenager. The world was usually awful from my point of view. But not at Disneyland. There I learned the benefits of keeping a smile on my face, dreaming big instead of worrying small, and focusing on the bare necessities of life.
We need a place that over-romanticizes to balance out the over-depressing world around us.
Yes Disney is a megacorporation that owns an insane portion of the entertainment industry. Yes there are fanatics out there who take it way too seriously. Yes the “classic” Disney movies contain terrible hidden messages of sexist or racist perceptions. Sadly, it was a company run by white men for far too long. And yes, the theme parks are pricey traps that can drain people’s life savings. I have counter arguments for all of these that mainly follow the theme of “Welcome to capitalist, male-dominated, consumeristic America. It could be worse.”
It is easy to be critical. But I don’t want to live my life that way.
I believe in Disney because it represents a glass-half full kind of life. Despite its faults, Disney is still a successful company, not because their only goal is to make money, but because they are dedicated to portraying joy, hope, and a life that can still dream when things get hard. After all, most people believed that Walt Disney’s ideas of starting his own animation studio, creating full-length animated movies, or building a theme park were doomed for financial failure. My guess is that if anyone but Walt tried the same things they certainly would have failed. But this one man succeeded, not because he wanted to become rich, but because he believed in the power of dreaming and seeking happiness.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t realistic about the the not-so-happily-ever-after parts of life. Those parts exist, but your response determines the effect they have on your life. If someone is prone to deny reality and pretend life is always covered in sparkles, they could do that without Disney. The United States as a nation was guilty of unrealistic dreams long before Disney was on the scene.
The beneficial parts of Disney can be rooted in a reality that is fully aware of the world’s tragedies. Why? Because the benefits are things like inspiration to dream, motivation to try, and stories that remind us of the joyful parts of life.
As a teenager wrestling with deep insecurity and depression, I needed those messages. I saw the benefits of escaping to Disneyland for a day with my mom, the one place where work couldn’t haunt us and social pressures disappeared. It taught me that the sun would always come out eventually and you can learn to hope for happier days.
Ultimately I still believe that Disney (nor any other worldly things) can fulfill us with the joys or hope found in God. But I bet God is ok with people reminding each other of life’s goodness and the hope for a brighter tomorrow. Christianity is a fairy tale on its own, and the ultimate happily ever after will come when Jesus returns and we are fully redeemed into relationship with God.
Until then, I will be at Disneyland.
What are your thoughts on Disney?
Do you have a place that makes you feel like this?