I have not been a person historically comfortable with change. I don’t think this makes me particularly unique amongst human beings as we are generally not comfortable with change. But, the mere thought of change has generally sent me into an emotional state and caused such distress that I am unwilling and unable to put into practice the skills that I have learned as a therapist.
As I prepared to enter high school, my parents briefly considered buying a lovely piece of property in a town 35 minutes from the one where I attended high school. They hoped to build their dream home on the banks of a small pond contained in the property.
I became so upset and cried so hard that I refused to even raise my head to look at the property on the times when they would drive there and try to show it to me. I am ashamed to admit that I could not cope with the idea of changing high schools and leaving behind my friends and everything that I knew. I could not imagine how I would manage to make new friends and enjoy experiences different from those that I had long expected to have.
I think that’s the real crux of the fear with change. We know what to expect with the same. We know that even if we are unhappy with the status quo, it is an unhappiness that we can cope with, because we have been coping with it.
The familiar brings comfort and certainty. It brings continuity and certainty.
And yet I love the unexpected and unplanned nature of travel. I love that I don’t know what to expect. That I don’t know if I’ll like everything or that I’ll be comfortable in the places I go. Travel pushes boundaries and it encourages taking chances. Every restaurant is unfamiliar. Even the grocery store is a wonderland of the unanticipated. When things are unknown and new, one is forced to pay attention. To be mindful of the moment and to let go the ideas of past and future. Wholly consumed with the moment’s survival and experience. Travel keeps us present in the here and now in a way that the familiar allows to drift.
My reasons for loving Walt Disney World, then, are completely the opposite of my reasons for loving most other travel. Disney is familiar and constant. It inevitably invokes memories of past visits. The smells in the park remain the same year after year and because our sense of smell is the most immediate trigger of memories, just walking into the park and smelling the hot buttered popcorn, the sugary sweet cookies of the Main Street Confectionary, the musty, faint chlorine tempered with the tar of cannon shot found on Pirates of the Caribbean. All of these scents bring back such strong memories of visits with my family. They are constant and inspire a warmth and continuity that most travel does not allow.
So I understand why the thought of change brings such upset to people who love the parks so much. The announcement that Splash Mountain will be re-themed to tell the story of the Princess and the Frog sent the internet into a spasm of grief and worry. And I understand it. I have strong memories of the first time I rode it with my husband (then my boyfriend) and forcing him to warn me before the drop. Clinging to his hand as we watched the buzzards cackle. Screaming on the way down.
I also remember the Nautilus and 20,000 Leagues under the sea. I remember how amazed I was to see (what I thought was) a fully-functioning submarine in a castle’s back yard. To descend the steps into the dark, close quarters, and to feel it move around UNDER WATER (again, I was small, I had the magic of belief).
Those magical moments were so crystal and clear because they were FIRST experiences of a thing. That’s not to say there aren’t firsts in the fourth or fifth ride, there are. That is the magic of Disney. But over time, much of the joy is in the drifting back or in the connection to the past.
This is why I love change at the parks. Because change forces presence anew. I have to be in the moment on this new ride to take it in and to really notice what is happening in that ride. When Disney is an adventure rather than a comfort.
I’ve written before about one-mindfulness and focusing on the feelings and experiences of the moment. One of the fastest ways to ground oneself in the moment is to check in with the five senses – what can I see, smell, taste, touch, and hear right here right now. New experiences allow us to engage all of the senses without fear that one of them will highjack the moment and mix in the nostalgia and memories of past experiences of that very same sensation. When we engage with the world one-mindfully, we can leave the anxiety and worry about what’s next or what’s past behind.
I realized on the last trip that we took, in the summer – when it wasn’t terribly crowded and we went spur of the moment and therefore had less planned. That those other trips where I’ve gotten up 180 days before traveling to book dining, 60 days before to book fast passes have been driven by focus on what’s next. Maybe this is a foible of mine, but it’s so hard to focus on what IS if I’m worrying that we’ll miss for our FastPass for the Haunted Mansion while waiting in line for Small World. On that summer trip we were able to be in the moment and present with our kids. We weren’t so much focused on what we had done before or what we were scheduled to do next. We wandered.
And it was an adventure.
So this is why I’m looking forward to the re-themed Splash Mountain. Tiana is a wonderful American princess and it is a delight to see her have a home in the parks. The new version of the ride doesn’t remove my memories of what came before (and much of the original experience, for me, will remain – the drop, the slow climb, the water). It will, though, force me to experience it anew. To be present as I ride it. To feel that magic of adventure again.
And also, maybe, there will be beignets in the gift shop.