I’ve quite literally sat down to write about this last year probably as many days as we were closed (over 400, for the record). And for as much as I’ve tried to pen my thoughts, I don’t think I had finished enough of the experience to really know how I felt about it all. I’m sure someday I will catalog exactly what this all felt like and the stories and hard times that we all had in the last year. But, now that we’ve reopened, I realize a few things that I do want to make sure I get out before I move forward and I personally think they’re worth sharing.
One: this experience is far from over. I have been living the day-to-day of whatever “this” is since we heard the joint was closing on March 13th (a Friday, in case you forgot). I was standing right next to a dear friend of mine and mentor in our “big conference” room; gathered by Resort leadership suddenly to discuss this “virus outbreak in Asia.” As we waited for the news to hit us (whatever it was going to be a the time), I remember trying to crack jokes with my mentor-friend to break some of the tension for myself and remember how feeble it already felt to try to make light of this situation. We closed that Sunday and didn’t reopen in any real way for about a year. When we did, we were more like a shopping mall than a theme park. I’m glad we did it, but it felt like running an open house where nothing is complete, but hey we have good snacks and it sorta feels like home, but there’s no furniture in it and for God’s sake, don’t touch anything or anyone. That said, we still have a long road ahead; many of my friends and family no longer call this place work or home. I am reminded often that these people didn’t die, they just haven’t a job here anymore (for now). And while I realize I very well could’ve also been one of those folks that suddenly found themselves without a job here; one that feels a lot more like family than work…I was kept. Survivor’s guilt runs deep. Trying to figure out how to move forward without integral parts of my team, my family. Now what? Still figuring that out many, many months later.
Two: the world changed while we were in here. We saw some very, truly ugly things while we were all locked in. A black man strained to breathe his last while the whole country saw it happen, helpless to prevent it. We reacted. Demanded justice that was just got after a year. This is leading to some great changes, namely that some albeit meager discussion is happening about actual equality. However, in spite of all that good, I learned that a lot of people I considered to be friends were bigots in their mindsets and many of them woefully unaware. But, upon being made aware of it, some have decidedly denied their blinders and are choosing to be exclusivist and in some cases downright hateful. While this is sad and Disneyland is a happy place, much of what our berms are protecting us from doesn’t stop the world from coming in. Our company, wanting to set a good example, added another key principle for us to follow: inclusion. Another good thing that came from something so bad, but it’s going to be a long road to making this mindset commonplace and not just another policy.
Last thing for now: the magic never left. A colleague of mine said it best this morning as we opened: “they keep saying the magic is back, but I say the magic never left.” And after watching my colleagues day in and day out, grind away at their work, whatever it may be at that moment in an empty theme park, with no pay off and no real end in sight most days, I know exactly who I work with and what we do. And while the slaying of the dragons and flying of fairies; hugs near hunny pots and subverting the First Order; telling enriching stories and thrusting people into experiencing them…all of these things are important, and we definitely do them. But even though we create magic for kids and adults to enjoy and wonder about long before and after they’ve visited us, we do not simply make the magic…we are the magic. I see now after traversing empty parks for a year, that without my colleagues and the guests, the place was a lot less magical. But there was a spark. A very pragmatic, tired, sometimes cynical spark. Invigorated by the slow return of some of our family, we are being afforded the ability to grow the spark into a fire and to share it with our guests again starting today. No, the magic never left, and for as much as circumstances dimmed the light of magic, it did not and will not ever go out, because as long as there are people with dreams to dream there will always be magic like this.
And now, once more with gusto: “to ALL who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is YOUR land…” and we’re happy you’re here, welcome home to both the magic makers and the magic experiencers, it’s great to see you smiling behind your masks and we’ll hug you real soon, but for now leave the world of yesterday and enjoy the land of a promising brand new day.