We just completed our fourth family vacation to Walt Disney World today. In celebration of my wife’s birthday, we loaded the group into a Jet Blue and made our way to the happiest place on Earth once again.
What made this vacation different than the ones in 2014 and 2016 was that we returned to the Animal Kingdom park for the first time since our initial trip in 2011. Besides being home to where the deer and antelope play, this particular part of Disney also features The Lion King show – a massive event with dancers, acrobatics, and animatronic lions.
The Lion King show was the first attraction we did during our maiden voyage seven years ago. My wife’s parents joined us for that vacation and were there by our sides for the show. For some reason, this one particular Simba-themed event has always stayed in my mind.
Keep in mind, I don’t think I ever even saw the Lion King movie all the way through, but I remember the entire live show right down to where we were sitting. It feels like yesterday. In reality, it was over half a decade ago and right before my life took a roller-coaster-like journey that would rival Space Mountain.
Lucas was still less than a year old. He was far from being diagnosed with Autism, In fact, he had yet to even show any signs in my eyes. He was a blue eyed baby with a contagious smile that we strolled around the park without a care in the world.
I was still about a year away from my surprise heart attack and quintuple bypass at the age of 35. I could eat anything I want and, although I can’t say for sure, I know I probably did. I remember being tired as I walked from attraction to attraction, but that’s about it. No pills. No heart healthy options. No worries. I was Superman.
It was also still about four years before my father-in-law passed away from a pretty aggressive cancer. I had known my wife’s dad for more than half of my life and when he died, I gave a eulogy at his funeral. We had more of a father-son relationship than one of a spouse’s father to her husband. His death rocked not only me but every single person I love. It changed all of us.
The flood of memories from that Lion King show was a glimpse into a life that I didn’t have anymore. It was a trip back to a time when everything was still one way and had yet to change into the way it is now. As I said, I remember every moment.
I also remember that I was in a bad mood during it. Strangely, I can’t remember why. All I know was that I was annoyed about something. Sadly, that was more the rule than the exception back then.
None of this went through my mind until I was seated at the show again this past Saturday. As I sat with my family rewatching songs and speeches that had been sitting dormant in my mind since ‘11, I started to feel just how much everything had changed.
My six year old son was in his rented stroller, which we had registered with the park as a wheelchair, as his Autism, which many might categorize as severe, prevents him from being able to walk long distances or handle most lines. Before the show, I enjoyed a vegetarian meal at one of the park’s restaurants and I could still hear my father in law’s voice commenting on the event as it happened, although now it was in my own head.
I thought about what it would be like to go back and tell myself in 2011 all that was about to happen. I imagined explaining the upcoming diagnoses on the horizon, the loss of loved ones, and even the cleansing of some toxic relationships in my life. I pictured trying to reveal to this angry 34 year old, unsure of what he should be mad at next, all of the turbulence that was on the horizon.
What would information like that have done to me? I thought of all of the extreme responses I would have. I couldn’t even fathom living it again, much less hearing about it before it did.
Yet, here I was. It was 2018, I survived, and I was back in the same place. While so much was different for me now, there was one difference which I never would have expected.
This time I was in a good mood.
In stark contrast to my initial Disney trip, this has become the rule in my life rather than the exception. I’ve gone through a lot since 2011. The moments, as they came at me, were harder than I could explain. They sound even more daunting when I lay them out in front of me one by one. Yet, I weathered the storms each time and came out the other side. The cackling men in monkey suits mere feet away reminded me of that.
I’m glad I wasn’t told all that was about to happen in those days. It paints a dark picture of a miserable future. It sounds hard because each moment, as it occurred, was hard. That’s a fact. Watching your life take sharp turns can be a shock to the system. Having so many hurdles, more than I even listed here, in such a short span of time is enough to knock you to the ground. The fear, uncertainty, and general pain along the way can feel insurmountable as they come, especially without the foresight to know how you’ll handle them.
Each time, though, you get up. You have to. You can’t lay on the ground forever. With each crushing blow comes the realization that you are far stronger than you ever knew. The me of 2011 would never believe I could overcome so many obstacles and come out the other side better for it. The me of 2018 knows that I not only can, but I did.
And that’s why I’m in such a good mood today.