Under a sunny spring sky, my sister-in-law treated us to a day at Disneyland last month. My two-year-old son loved the tea cups (he rode it twice!). He was uncertain of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride because my wife kept covering his eyes at scary parts. Yet spelunking the caves on Tom Sawyer’s Island stole him away. I tracked him up and down and around dark corners where he found ladders, forts and pirate treasure.
Outside, as we waited to board Tom Sawyer’s raft, we watched a water bird swimming in the lagoon. The bird dove and disappeared, splitting the water with his pointy beak. It emerged a few feet away and drove again. When it came up again, a fish wiggled on its beak, speared through the middle. Not a minnow, but a fish three times the size of the birds head. All of us waiting at the dock, maybe 30 guests, had turned toward the bird, an attraction we didn’t pay to see, watching the fish struggle on the harpoon poking through it’s center, gasping and kicking its fins.
With the sounds of utopian Disney in the background, the Carousel, the rising and falling Dumbo and the banjo players at the cajun restaurant, we watched the water.
Then, with a swirling motion, the bird twirled the fish on its beak and opened wide. It took the fish like a snake taking a rabbit, large throated. The crowd gasped in chorus.
The polished world of Disney played on, the fake rocks and boats, the house that isn’t haunted and space mountain that lacks space, all of it could not keep life from breaking into this moment, where a bird goes rogue and reminds us that the world is gritty enough without faux paint.
This is our world, our technological incantations, our sterile world that promises health and polished meaning and yet is filled with hollow moments, dead fish, guests visiting an amusement park bearing cancer in their body, children posing for pictures with Mickey who came with their grandparents because their parents are “having problems.”
No matter what we fabricate to forget our lives and keep our feet from feeling the earth, real things keep breaking our spells. Beauty and evil, happiness and suffering, pleasure and disappointment all remain.
When we first moved to Steamboat from Los Angeles, I craved the small town and the beauty of the outdoors, and the lack of concrete and powerlines and feeling stranded by endless neighborhoods. Few places are as idyllic to me as this rolling valley bordered by mountains, which looks suited for Hobbits who snow ski. I was walking through town the first week of our move and heard a car drive by playing loud music. Big city pop music. Digitized, unnatural music. My first thought, “He should turn off his music — his graffiti of sound — and listen to nature with his windows down!” My idealism for my new home grew doubts.
Then I heard reports of suicides and rapes in town. And earlier this week, a former teacher at the local Christian school, was charged with molesting a student.
The real world crashes in, no matter our hopes for the beauty around us. We can eat our Disney cotton candy but not be fooled that this is the happiest place on earth. We can move to small town America and know evil will find us here, including our own. We can watch the serenity of water birds, and keep watching, even when it turns ugly.
This is the story of the Cross, where the vertical and horizontal beams serve as a sign post of the meeting of heaven and earth. Where God looked upon the mess of this world and instead of snatching us away humming “It’s a small world afterall,” he stepped into it and called for a broom. Not to demolish, but to remodel. He took us, pockmarked, not to air-brush us smooth, but to scour us of dirt. Not to make us something else, but to make us ourselves.
image credit: wallpapers5.com