There wasn’t much in the way of Christmas décor in this park. A large tree at the front and some simple seasonal additions to the lampposts was mostly what I saw, but it didn’t need more. The music had a tribal rendition of some Christmas songs added in, which was nice, but not overwhelming, and of course, the merchandise at the shops had Santa hats, and a lot of red and green on display.
We’d traversed the hill at the main entrance, stopped to see very large colorful birds. I learned Gwil had an affinity for them and was considering getting one of his own. We’d already hit one snack cart for lemonade and now I sat there staring up at what Jack called The Tree of Life.
It was an enormous, and I do mean enormous, structure meant to look like a tree. It had animals carved all around its trunk, gigantic leaves, and water pouring down the sides. In the foreground were a few kangaroos, maybe a vulture, I don’t know, it was a big bird. I was getting a sense of what the day would hold and it wasn’t all terrible.
“Once upon a time, no vegetation would grow on Discovery Island. There were no trees, no shrubs, no flowers, nothing.” Jack began a dramatic recitation.
I held back my eye roll.
“It was a barren piece of land. Then, one day, a tiny ant planted a seed and made a wish. He asked for a tree to grow, a tree large enough to provide shelter for all the animals. Magically—” He swept his arms around in the air then brought his hands down in the direction of the tree. “—the ant’s wish came true and a tree began to grow… and it kept growing until there was room beneath its limbs for all the animals from Ants to Zebras. And as the tree continued to reach for the heavens, the images of all the animals that took shelter beneath its shade appeared on its trunk, roots, and branches.”
Jack took a small bow and a family behind us actually applauded.
~ 1 ~
“Don’t encourage him.” I smiled at them.
“The Tree of Life is made mostly of concrete, fashioned over a modified oil rig, for strength and stability.” Now it was Gwil’s turn. “It took approximately 18 months to complete, with three Imagineers and ten artists working on it full time. Disney Imagineers consider the Tree of Life to be the single most challenging structure on property.”
Gwil spieled the facts as if they were his own height, weight, and eye color.
“How do you even know this stuff?” I wanted to act like it was stupid, but honestly, I was impressed despite myself.
“Are you kidding?” Jack asked like I’d asked him if Santa was real.
“We love this stuff!” Gwil finished the answer as if to say duh.
I decided to find it all charming. In truth, they were kind of adorable. I was used to them in a much different fashion. Gwil is a tech guru and Jack is… well, he’s Jack, sexy, charismatic, king of all things. Now here they were, geeks in awe of a tree.
And I was enchanted.
“Okay, we have three choices. Pandora, Asia, and Africa.”
My stomach turned at the thought of Africa.
“Could we do Asia first?” I asked and both of them looked at me like I’d sprouted something from my eyeballs.
“Yeah.” Jack snapped into a straighter pose. “Of course.”
He turned to Gwil, “The lady wants Asia!”
I heard the shock in his tone, but the joy, as well, and maybe for the first time I realized what was really going on. I realized how much this actually meant to them. Not Disney, but bringing me to Disney.
You have to understand that when Jack and I first met, all we had were dreams. We were both broker than broke. He loved Disney even back then and often spent time at the resorts as a way to soak up his magic since he couldn’t afford to go inside.
~ 2 ~
Now he’d made it and he could afford to be inside, and what he wanted was to share that, and he’d chosen me to share it with.
And I was rejecting him and his gift.
I felt awful.
I decided right then to check my attitude hard and invest in our day together. That man kept me together after my divorce, and we helped each other get on our feet. I wouldn’t be in Florida at all if not for him, so this was literally the least I could do for him.
“Let’s go then!” Gwil whooped and raised a hand in the air, circling it as if he were raising a flag.
“Yeah, let’s go!” And just as I spoke, a flock of gold and blue birds flew low overhead. “Oh my God!”
I gasped, then I heard a strange sound emit from my throat… it was a legit giggle.
“It’s the bird show!” Gwil didn’t hesitate, he just started to move in the opposite direction we’d been facing.
Jack pushed me up next to him, and in another moment, those birds all flew in and landed on a small structure built onto a stage, framed to one side by the view of that enormous tree.
“They’re incredible.” I breathed the words as I sat in awe of the beauty of them.
For the next ten minutes, Disney cast members talked to us and taught us about the birds, both in the wild and in the park. When they told us to get our cameras ready, I followed instruction well, and my uncharacteristic willingness to “do as I was told” was rewarded with an amazing shot of one of the birds just barely above my head.
When it was over, and the birds flew out as stunningly as they had flown in, I could feel the magic Gwil was talking about. It wasn’t necessarily in the birds, or the ground. It was in what the people around us felt and experienced in that moment and how happy it made them. I felt their experience, too, and the gentle waves that rolled off the people around me brought with them a profound revelation that helped change the course of my day in the park.
~ 3 ~
I suddenly saw so clearly and felt so undeniably that this happiness seemed to create its own magic. It was a special brand that I doubt you’d find anywhere but in a Disney theme park. The people thought they were coming to the magic, but the magic was actually a partnership between what Disney offered and how the people responded … and it was powerful, and beautiful. And because it’s more like a partnership of creation, each person would experience that magic in a unique way all their own. I thought about how many people had come through these parks every day, and I wondered how many ever knew that they controlled the magic.
“Shall we journey on?” Jack looked down at me.
I shook my head to rejoin the here and now. The happiness I was feeling was already more than I expected. I reached out to Jack’s hand.
“Thanks.” I chewed my lower lip and prayed he wouldn’t make a big deal.
He stared down at me for a moment and I saw in his eyes that he got it. He smiled back at me for only a moment before getting behind the chair again.
“Okay! We journey on!” Jack pushed me away from the tree and Gwil practically skipped beside me.
“I’m totally getting a bird like that.” He promised.
As we trekked along the plaza, we saw musicians playing synthesized music while dancers on stilts engaged the children. We continued on over a bridge, and as I looked to my left, I made Jack stop so I could get a photo of the mountain standing tall and majestic on the other side of a lake. There was something serene and mysterious about the visual, and I wanted to remember it.
We took a detour beneath a rickety bridge and a ginormous Dino skeleton, and before I knew it, we were on a simulated time travel journey back to capture a dinosaur. It was dark and bumpy and ridiculous, but I laughed and laughed.
That seemed to give Jack cart blanche to do what he wanted, and the next thing I knew, we were sitting in a pale green triceratops, flying in a circle to nowhere. I tried to pretend this childish ride was beneath me, but as he moved our dinosaur up and down, and Gwil in the seat behind me kept
~ 4 ~
playing with my ponytail, I again started to laugh and couldn’t stop. With each circle around, everything I’d been through started slipping away. Sure, it’d all be there for me when we left the park tonight, but for now, this was an escape to a little bit of heaven that I never expected, but was blessed beyond reason to experience.
After the ride, Jack and Gwil started playing carnival games, challenging one another to win the best prize for me. It was so dumb it was precious. I sat in my stupid wheelchair, watching them throw basketballs, and race with water guns, and toss rings, and… I felt happy. Legitimately happy.
They even convinced me to race them on one of the carnival games. I lost, but then, so did both of them.
After we collected our Dino winnings, and had a quick snack at Dino Snacks, we got seats for Finding Nemo.
I was having a brilliant time, and I wanted the full experience of happy and magic that I’d discovered this park had to offer, but I just wasn’t interested in this show. I tried to act like I was enthusiastic for their sake, though. I had just never seen the movie and couldn’t imagine a world in which I was going to be impressed by a kids’ show about a fish. However, I could be polite. Even though I really just wanted to go see more animals.
“So are you having fun yet?” Gwil sat on my left.
“Yeah, it’s been better than I thought.” I downplayed it and looked to Jack on my right.
I wasn’t willing to concede our bet yet.
“Just wait.” Jack assured me.
Announcements over the sound system, in both English and Spanish, reminded us not to smoke or use flash photography.
The lights dimmed, and music began.
All conversation ended, and I was grateful for that.
I figured the guys could watch their show, and I could sit and zone out a bit, maybe go over some of the life decisions I needed to make. Like, all of them.
~ 5 ~
And then my life evaluation was interrupted by puppets.
“Really? Puppets?” I whispered.
“Shhhh.” Was the only response Jack gave me.
I rolled my eyes.
We’d apparently gone to Sesame Street.
“Wait… what just happened?” I sat a little straighter and clutched Jack’s hand. “Did they get eaten?”
“Shhhhhhh.” Jack shushed me harsher.
“Fine!” I whispered back.
I sulked, and quietly tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
It probably would have been easier if I’d seen the movie, but I was a smart woman… and I still wasn’t sure about these puppets.
Within a few minutes, though, I audibly gasped, delighted by how the sea and sea life were brought to life in intricate, ingenious, and colorful costumes and props as actors and dancers filled the stage.
“Oh! I love rays!” I didn’t get shushed that time, but he did smile at me like he’d been right.
I hated when he was right.
The audience all clapped as the first number ended and the puppets became a little less weird.
“Oh no.” I’ve never had kids, but hearing one say I hate you like Nemo just told his father… oh, that hurt my heart. “Oh my God, look!” I hit Jack and pointed at the actors as they came out into the audience, as if this was
~ 6 ~
totally new information to him.
As the show went on, I was charmed by the little fish who had a short-term memory problem, the over-protective dad, and I really liked the shark.
The music was fun, and kind of beautiful, too. I was enthralled by the actors playing double duty, acting in full costume and make-up, but carrying their fishy counterparts in, okay, not exactly puppets, but these physical manifestations that they controlled.
Did I mention that I really liked the shark?
As the show went on, the performers were amazing. I got caught up in the music, dance, and the costumes, and by the end, when Nemo was reunited with his dad, nearly dies, then happy ending for everyone… I was in tears and clapping so hard.
And damn it, Jack was right… again!
Again I felt that sweep of magic. Every single one of us in that theater had just experienced something beautiful together, and that felt like a miracle.
As we exited, and Jack pushed me away from the theater, I was still wiping away tears. I do not know how that got me so emotional, it was fish! But it was wonderful!
“Maybe you need an aquarium, Bri.” Gwil tapped my shoulder.
I looked up at him and his huge grin.
“I can barely take care of myself right now, a fish may be too much.”
“You never know.”
We came up to Everest next and Jack parked me in such a way that we could watch the runaway train barrel down the mountain in a thrilling adrenaline rush of motion.
I was laughing with joy watching it go. I felt like a two-year-old, amazed at the simplest of things. It was incredible. So alive and thrilling.
“So, million-dollar question… Do you want to go on it?” Jack asked with a mischievous grin that implored me to say yes, but what was my answer?
I half smiled, chewed my lip, and watched the next train pummel down the mountainside as I giggled with glee. I knew the answer, I turned to Jack…
~ 7 ~
Additional chapters can be found below.
The Memory of Magic ~ Samantha Lucas
Fun fact, I have never actually been on Everest. I feel like Big Thunder is my coaster limit, but I do love watching Everest when I’m in AK.
Who knows, maybe before this story is done, I’ll ride it and then channel that into Sabrina’s story. You never know!
Come with me on a year long journey with Sabrina and her friends as they reevaluate the meaning of life, discover true friendship, and soul deep love.
This story is my gift to the world, to remind us all of hope and love and that even crazy dreams come true… if we have the courage to pursue them.
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Love to you today and always. ~ Samantha