Everyone in line was exhausted after standing in line waiting to enter for well over 20 minutes. Adding to the exhaustion it was approaching midnight as we turned the corner because we were all there for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World -- a ticketed event that starts at 7 p.m. and ends at midnight.
We were third in line but the room was quiet enough and secluded enough where you could hear Mickey visiting with the guests who had come to see him.
The first family made their way over, their little boy strolled up to Mickey, handed him his autograph book and then they each posed for photos. The two Cast Members (one an assistant and the other a photographer) played their roles very well, staying in character, and adding to the show.
Next, just in front of us, was a man in a motorized scooter and his son, who had to be at least 15 years old. I could easily tell that his son had some sort of mental disability, and my guess was autism. But, when his son approached Mickey, he clearly thought he was with THE Mickey Mouse -- there was no doubt in his mind this was the real Mickey. He hugged him over and over. They visited with each other and he continually whispered something in Mickey's ear to which Mickey responded each time with encouragement, to the young boy's delight.
In what normally takes a minute, two at the most, to move through, grab a photo, and then move on, took almost five minutes. The boy did not want to leave, and the Cast Members, along with Mickey, did not want to interrupt what was clearly a special moment occurring.
For us, and the rest of the families in line witnessing this moment, it was something that seemed to cause time to stand still. None of us said a word, made a sound, or even moved. We all simply watched with amazement at what was transpiring between Mickey Mouse and this young boy.
At last, his father edged out of his scooter, called his son, walked over to him and guided him away from Mickey. All the while the boy kept his eyes on the one person he had come to see. And, as they departed, we all took a brief moment to collect ourselves before taking our turn with Mickey.
When we exited, all my wife and I could say to each other was, "Wow, that was amazing."
Fast forward 30 minutes and we are across Town Square at the Magic Kingdom and I am waiting on our other children to join us at the Christmas tree as my wife takes our youngest daughter to the restroom. Approaching me on his scooter is the boy's father, and he comes to a stop just a foot away from me.
"You are the father of the young boy who just visited Mickey aren't you?" I asked him.
"Yes, I am," he said in a hesitant manner.
"I cannot tell you how much of a privilege it was to be a part of what we just witnessed in there," I told him.
Relief seemed to come over his face, and he grinned from ear-to-ear. "Thank you," he said. "My son has autism and he lives for that, for meeting Mickey Mouse. He absolutely adores Mickey."
"Well, it was evident to my wife and I that was the case. Again, we were just glad to be part of it," I said.
"You know, most of the time, people get frustrated at us, and even make comments about us taking too long," he answered. "But they don't know our story and why it is so important to him. I mean, he has written stories about Mickey and wants to work for Disney when he grows up. When he meets Mickey, he believes he is talking to a real Mickey Mouse, and that's why he whispers in his ear all the time."
"Tell your son to dream big and we look forward to the day when he greets us as a Cast Member," I told his father, seeking some way to encourage him for a brief moment.
"Thank you, I will," he said. And then he drove off.
I wish I could say that I responded like this every time I have had the opportunity, but I haven't. However, my interaction with this man reminded me, reaffirmed to me that each family has a story to tell.
So often though, others won't take the time to listen.
During this time of year, be a listener. There are families around you, people close to you, strangers among you, and each one has a story to tell. The question is, who will listen?