All across the country, under my breath and off-key, I have been singing “Amazing Grace,” a habit I got into a couple of years ago when my car radio quit. It’s still not fixed, and now it’s almost automatic that I break into song as I slide behind the wheel of my little Rabbit diesel that no one but me will ride in because of the noise and vibration. I think of this as the young man begins his rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
It’s not the version I sing. But of all the songs, why this one? Is it simply coincidence? Dorothy wouldn’t think so. If not, though, what am I to make of it. Back in Nashville when I had asked for help in understanding why I was making this ride, Lloyd had sung his answer: “Cheer up my brother, walk in the sunshine, farther along we’ll understand why.” Were all these coincidences part of the answer? Am I so dense that I’m destined never to know?
John and Barbara Lim arrive about seven in the evening. Bobbie and I haven’t seen them in years, only once or twice since John graduated from Jewell. They have been in California since John came here to minister to the spiritual needs of Malaysian people. He had been a pastor back in Malaysia for years before he came to the States to finish his college and then to study at the seminary.
Barbara, Grace, and Paul had stayed behind, intending to see John at the end of his studies when he came home. John had been here better than a year when people in the church brought his family over. They had endeared themselves by their gracious manner and their unsurpassed skills in the kitchen. To be invited to the Lim’s for dinner came to be the most coveted invitation in town among those who knew them, a number that was increasing rapidly.
The outdoor service begins as the sun is setting. It’s conducted entirely by women and tells the story of Moses’ mother, sister and Pharaoh’s daughter, helping us all to glimpse the character of God apart from the usual male imagery. John and Barbara sit with us for the service.
Early the next morning John is back with one of his parishioners to drive us to Anaheim for our day at Disneyland. A bus has wrecked on the freeway and we are just a few minutes late when we get to Milt’s office a little after eleven. I like Milt immediately. In his 70’s, with a full head of shining silver hair, ruddy complexion, booming voice, ready smile, pearly teeth, eyes that twinkle, and a firm handshake, I know in an instant that he loves his job and has fun doing it.
If cast by Hollywood, the Disney persona could not be better captured. Milt has been with Disney since the beginning and knew Walt personally. Milt walks me from his office to the parking lot and locks my bike in the van where it will stay until tomorrow. As we walk, Milt maintains a running commentary on this place he knows so well. Main Street is modeled after Marceline, Missouri, he tells me, where Walt’s parents moved when he was five years old, but it had to be scaled down to accommodate the space available. Disneyland covers only 40 acres, a Magic Kingdom surrounded by freeways. Main Street is designed so that to arriving guests it looks longer than it really is, giving the illusion of more space than actually exists. To the guest walking out Main Street at the end of an exhausting day, the street appears shorter, less an obstacle back to their waiting car.
I get the feeling that more is afoot for tomorrow than I expect. To be in the parade Disneyland has each afternoon and to meet Mickey: that’s what I asked Milt if I could do. When he said yes, I was in Heaven. Milt had said it would be good if I could be here in September for the State Fair Day they are planning, but I had to be back home to start a new school year on September 1. Milt expected 80,000 people in the park on August 27 and my arrival would not be as big an event as it would later. “But you come ahead. We’ll make it nice,” he said.
As I called Milt every week or so from the road, I could feel his excitement growing. Milt had called the college about a week ago to say that he would need for Bobbie and me to stay in the Disneyland Hotel so we would be close enough to coordinate the activities Disney had planned. I didn’t know about this development until yesterday when Bobbie told me. Since Seattle I had been planning to spend our nights in Anaheim at the Lutheran Seminary here. Jack Eichorst had called his fellow president here and arranged our lodging.
And last night on the phone to Bobbie, Milt had told her he needed a private meeting with her when we got to Disneyland. After Milt takes me to lock up my bike, he and Bobbie and several Disney people disappear up the stairs for about an hour. Bobbie then floats down the stairs, glowing as if what she has seen and heard has transformed her. “You won’t believe what they have planned for you,” she says. Then she falls silent. I see in her eyes what I saw when she was seventeen and stole my heart.
Milt is bubbling as he tells me about it, though he gives me none of the details. But if he aims to get me excited, he could do no better than one thing he does say; “I’ll pick you up in the morning at 5:45. We have rehearsal at six.”
Rehearsal! Rehearsal? Me? Robert Redford, eat your heart out. When I was a boy a Saturday morning radio program called Let’s Pretend would transport me to a land of castles and kings and beautiful ladies and noble deeds. Now in real life as an adult I have been transported here at Disneyland for an adventure bigger than I ever imagined.
The woman at the hotel desk makes me feel like King Arthur as she asks about my ride and says she is proud of me. She hopes the Human Family Reunion fires the imagination of all the world’s people. Then she sends us up to the twelfth floor suite. A living room bigger than our apartment when we got married. And more furniture. A two-room bathroom. Closets big enough to sleep in. From the bedroom we can see a waterfall, a swimming pool and a paddle-boat lagoon, some shops, another hotel, and Disneyland.
While we sat in the hotel lobby waiting for our room, Milt showed me the script for tomorrow’s TV filming. They are having a parade just for me, and all the Disney characters will be there to welcome me. Milt said Disney is spending a lot of money and time on this. “We want to do it for you,” he said, “but of course there’s something in it for us. If that film’s as good as we hope, it’ll be seen all over this country.”
When I meet Milt outside the hotel a little before six the next morning, the sun is coming up into a cloudless sky; the air is cool and clear. Just inside the front gate, half-a-dozen people are busily arranging the stage. Following introductions all around, Milt drives me back into the parking lot, explaining as we go the route and the speed I am to ride at ten o’clock when the ceremony in front of the train station is to take place.
And now they tell me that I am the only one in the parade. It’s all for me! I will ride my bike in the main gate. Chip and Dale and Goofy will entertain the crowd as I ride through the parking lot, commenting on how long it will take me to arrive. As I approach the train station, I will ride onto a red carpet, lined to either side by cheering spectators waving American flags. And when I make it the length of the carpet, I am to dismount. Someone will take my bike and I will grab Bobbie and give her a big kiss. Mickey will shake my hand and usher me onto the stage where I will be officially welcomed and presented a trophy from the Orange County M.S. Society and one from Disneyland, a statue of Mickey Mouse, appropriately inscribed and handed to me by Mickey himself.
Then I’ll make a short speech and be interviewed by the media. Everything will be filmed and put on TV for all the country to see. Then we’ll go to lunch in Walt’s private club, followed by an escorted tour of the park with the Disneyland Ambassador.
For two hours we rehearse, and as I hear the Disney characters talk about me in their irreverent way, I am one of them as they have all of my life been one of me. And when Milt drives me out to the marquee in front of Disneyland and shows me my name up there for all to see, when he tells me that this is something they just never do, that the last time they did it was for Richard Nixon more than 20 years ago; then, at that moment, I am in a dimension of life I have never known and cannot describe.
Ten o’clock comes. Everything proceeds as planned. This can’t be real. All these people cheering for me, with their eyes embracing the day and each other and me. People of different colors and cultures and creeds standing to welcome and to listen to me. Gazing into that sea of salt, pepper and ginger faces as I talk, seeing the smiles and the endorsing body language, feeling the energy and the good will that has us caught in its spell, believing for one brief shining moment that the whole world is the mirror image of this place: The Magic Kingdom come alive.
And now I do understand, Lloyd. Farther along, I have found the answer. Peace, power, purpose and joy are meant to be our constant companions. Life is supposed to be a glorious adventure. To become a World Class Person, able to go anywhere at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe: This is our destiny. Each of us intuitively knows all of this. If we can find the courage to talk to people about our mutual dreams of becoming World Class, then we shall together be swept upward in a benevolent commingling of beautiful thoughts and noble deeds, elevating us and all of life to the heroic dimension we long for.