The Kingdom of Mint Juleps and Sugary Beignets

A few days ago we attended Disneyland for the fourteenth time this year with my 2 kids and my wives parents. Earlier in the year, my wife was adamant that I buy a $350 season pass in an attempt to save us some money. “Fuck,” I thought, “Really?” I remember feeling the same agitation when Carlos at Circle Audi was manipulating me into an extended warranty on new brake pads for our leased vehicle. “Well sir, if you don’t get the extra coverage you will end up paying twice as much after you return the vehicle.” It was one of those lose-lose situations when there is neither fight nor flight but a silent defeated resignation. “Where do I sign, here is my credit card, take my soul now, why don’t you…” The kids were screaming and the depression set in, the heavy eyes, the longing to want to roll over and go nap somewhere. “Is this our life now, is this where it is all headed, honey?” I asked my wife, in a not so Disneyland ‘honey’ kind of way. “People are starting to look at you, just give the woman your credit card.” She loved to use that ‘people are looking at you’. 

I have watched my son and wife thoroughly enjoy the luxury of a swinging door at Disneyland. From a yearly tradition, it has now become a place of consistent respite and rejuvenation for them. I tag along when I can because I don’t want my family to think any less of me. That scrooge, anti-fun disorder has been a heavy weight around my neck since I can remember and I want to shake it off for the sake of my kids and seasons to come when I will have to participate in other horrible mythological adventures like celebrating Coka Cola’s version of St. Nicholas..look it up if you don’t believe me, its the birth of Santa Clause. But if I am being really honest, maybe I kept showing up at Disneyland to find some kind of spiritual breakthrough or renewed innocence of my own. 

After many hours that day, staring at hundreds of women’s asses in black yoga pants to spike my serotonin and shoving oversized corn dogs down my throat I realized my irreconcilable despair around all of it was leading me to the edge. I couldn’t carry the untruth of it uphill anymore. My existential pain surrounding the blind unconsciousness of it all was unruly. It was disgusting to think Walt Disney and Monsanto were pandering, advertising and campaigning their way into the hearts of young innocent children. Forcing an allegiance and manipulating them into sold out consumers for the rest of their lives. 

After a father wearing a Captain Hook hat almost ran over me, pushing his leashed son one step closer to a Buzz Lightyear statue, I had had enough. I think I had been on my phone trying to figure out more important things like the reason Brazil voted a right-wing homophobic nationalist into office. I wanted to bring it up to my wife and passive-aggressively punish her for not attending to more important apocalyptic things in the world. But first to handle this fucking unconscious idiot who hit my leg. My fist was clenched. It was then my three-year-old son suddenly looked up at me “Papa, I love you, Buzz Lightyear, Buzz Light Year…” It was painful, like when your dying grandmother attempting to use your iPhone notices your porn search history. So much evil and anger illuminated by the tender fragile presence of innocence. 

But my repentance only lasted for as long as the next ride and then I sunk back in. Angry, irritable and discontent. Internally I was conflicted, I thought maybe I should just surrender to an easier nihilistic framework and become stoic to mitigate the absurdity of our human existence, or remain somewhat Christian continuing to pray for a way through this pigpen of American delusion. It was so clear to me that neither God nor Truth nor anything redeeming existed at Disneyland. It could only be a place to simply survive.

My youngest was asleep in her stroller, my phone was dead, I flailed onto a bench to rest my feet and pout a bit. The rest of the family carried on across the park to Winnie the Pooh, surely having enough of my shit.  It was a moment to get quiet and honest with God finally. So I prayed, “You know Father, you and I haven’t spoken candidly recently and you know how I feel about this place, as I am sure you feel the same way…but if there is something I am not seeing or not coming to grasps with, can you throw me a bone here, help me please?” 

In AA I did what we call a second step, I often forget it is the foundational tenet in a program that saved my life as an alcoholic. It comes after the first step of surrender and a life not working out so well on your own terms, in your own strength. Step two (Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.) It had been a long season of my own will power not working out so well and I was ready for help. 

Suddenly, and it really was that swiftly, I felt a nudge, a kind of answer to prayer, which wasn’t something dramatic but a simple idea to do the next indicated step. I had a kind of knowing that if I simply got up at that moment and walked towards Winnie the Poo, the rest of the family would be done with the ride and ready to go. So I followed the feeling and honored it. Sure enough, I turned the corner and they were right there, getting off the ride. The timing was perfect.  It was a fairly big deal because my phone had died hours previously and I had no real way of staying in touch with them. 

Next, my wife’s stepmother suggested we get something sugary for my son because he was falling asleep; immediately I spoke up and resisted. My non-GMO righteousness eclipsed the state of grace… “Now that is the worst thing we could do for him right now…” I felt that seething cauldron of hate bubbling up again.  

Then suddenly that God’s presence feeling happened again. Pulling me towards something else. My wife and the rest of the family headed towards the train for one last circle around the park. My eyes dashed left and I saw a kids face smeared with a sugary beignet. I beelined towards the window, bought three and doubled down with two mint juleps. Just before the train was leaving I raced with my daughter still sleeping in her stroller and delivered the sugary request. It was a little like an out of body experience, I could not tell if I had simply given up or there was something else moving me. 

There was a peace that overcame me in that moment, a kind of acceptance. I noticed another family pushing a quadriplegic girl, another overweight child who had fallen asleep in his mother’s arms. There was something magical and transcendent about the moment that hadn’t been there before. I thought maybe the Kingdom of God wasn’t a physical place, or a thing to figure out but instead it was a way of perceiving reality when we surrender our cognitive, rational will. 

After the long day, my wife turned to me and said how highly her stepmother had spoken of me and the gracious gift…that I was a real man of God who served his family well. Now, we know the holes in that statement but all that being said, I was less angry that night leaving the park, less concerned with whether or not it was a delusional pursuit of hedonistic escapism or something to be blindly enjoyed. I was simply more interested in the joy of my kids. I felt a little more whole, a little smaller, average, and right sized knowing that maybe I had been wrong.  Knowing God had intervened and done something through me that I could not muster up in my own strength. I was happy to see my family happy; it was quite simple. Like a mustard seed. It reminded me that Jesus wasn’t so concerned about the type of bread and wine at the table but was more interested in the love shared and the time spent together. More and more I’m realizing my refusal to accept life on life’s terms is just my pride, arrogance and a refusal to accept my ordinary averageness. Sometimes, rarely, I’m smart enough to rely on divine revelation, most of the time if I am being honest need to be in enough pain to truly let go. For now, what else can I say, God Bless Disneyland and the Kingdom of Mint Juleps and Sugary Beignets….