It’s the time of year when we turn our thoughts to our friends, families, and loved ones. As Nephew Fred proclaims in A Christmas Carol, this is “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.” In other words, it is the time of year when we let others in and don’t think of ourselves first. Although, I’m not entirely sure that’s accurate when it comes to Walt Disney World.
Certainly, we’ve all had the encounters of a nearby parent loudly reiterating that they were all going to have a good time in a tone that implied anything but family fun or the folks who think it’s okay to jump in line, and the pairing of our ankles with ECVs or strollers is never fun when someone thinks that they should have the right of way, but there is something more to the experience of a vacation at Walt Disney World.
Take, for instance, the story of Jeff. Jeff is a longstanding Disney Cast Member whom, when I encountered him back in September, was working the preshow for the Star Wars – A Galactic Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He piped up to tell guests stories about Walt Disney, the park, Walt Disney World, and his own career, and they were for the most part accurate. He threw out trivia fit for the young and for the more savvy park-goer. He was an exemplary Cast Member, but it was his story of family photos that really got to me.
In this story he talks about how when a family would ask for their photo to be taken in front of the theater that he would ask if it was a family photo. If the answer was yes, which I imagine it almost always was, he would bellow “Family Photo,” and any available Cast Member within earshot would come running and bring whatever guests they could along with them to take a much larger family photo. The numbers of the crowds they were able to get would grow and grow, it would take multiple PhotoPass photographers to capture the event, and it eventually got up to park management what was happening. Did they shut it down? Absolutely not, they challenge Jeff and his cohorts to get even larger crowds, and they succeeded on every challenge.
It’s an awesome story in and of itself, a little bit of fun and a photo the participants will never forget with their new families. But here is where Jeff’s story caught me right in my heart (and in fact I am sort of tearing up just thinking about it now), what struck him about all of these photos is what he saw when he looked through whatever camera he happened to be using at the time. There was an entire world of people smiling back at him. Young and old, of every ability and disability, every color skin from every corner of the globe, they were all there. In that moment it wasn’t about anything more than being one big, happy family and enjoying a moment of spontaneous fun in the parks.
This is how I try to live my life, by being open and caring for my fellow passengers aboard our, pardon the pun, Spaceship Earth. There are times where I fail, spectacularly in some instances, but it isn’t for a lack of want or trying. I didn’t get to find Jeff in the stampede for the exit after the last firework burst, and didn’t see him again before my trip had ended, but he left a mark on me. I’m certain he’s left a mark on a lot of individuals, from his family photos, to his time in the school system, to each and every time he tells his stories. There are times in Walt Disney World where we all come together, knowingly or otherwise, and it isn’t just about our group but us as a people. Something to consider as you open your hearts this week and into the new year.