Well, this is a fine mess!
Needless to say, a lot has happened since the last time you heard from The Wisdom of Walt, including:
Oh, and our world has been shut down while we face the crisis and panic of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most Americans, I did not see this coming.
On Sunday, March 8, I gave our Disney Club and my History of California students, at California Baptist University, a tour of Disneyland. Like always, we started in Fantasyland and made our way through the park. When we passed Snow White’s Scary Adventures, I took a quick picture of the closed attraction and joked on social media that maybe it wasn’t really under refurbishment, but that Sneezy had been “quarantined” because of the Coronavirus.
Within minutes I received a message from a follower in Italy asking me to remove the post. He said the situation in Italy was dire and warned the virus would be in the United States soon enough. “Out of an abundance of caution,” I did what felt like the right thing and took the post down. Then I enjoyed the rest of my day and tour without further worry.
When we walked out of Disneyland that afternoon, we had no idea that it would be our last day at The Happiest Place on Earth for quite some time. By Wednesday of that week the NBA had shut down. On Thursday the NCAA announced there would be no March Madness this year, only March Sadness. By Friday, Disneyland was closed. My students left for Spring Break that weekend and I haven’t seen them since.
Like I said, a lot has changed.
And yet we have been here before. Well, at least Walt has.
As we all learn about the importance of social distancing, sheltering in place, and flattening the curve, perhaps you’ve heard of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic…a pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, and 600,000 Americans.
It was almost 600,001.
In 1918, the world battled the Spanish flu while also nearing the end of The Great War. Walt Disney, immune to his own mortality, desperately wanted to escape his impoverished childhood and join the American Expeditionary Forces fighting on the Western Front of World War 1. Born in December 1901, Walt was only 16 and too young to enlist. His only option was to enter the ambulance corps, but even then, he needed his mother’s assistance in doctoring the documents.
The ruse worked and Walt began his training in his hometown of Chicago at a tent encampment stationed in a burned-down amusement park, of all places.
What Walt was not immune to, however, was the Spanish influenza. Like the rest of the world and nation, the Spanish flu swept through The Windy City in the Fall of 1918. Walt fell severely ill. An ambulance driver from his own unit drove him home, where his mother, Flora, nursed him back to health before falling ill herself.
Walt never wanted to be seen as a slacker. Once his strength returned, he did what he felt was the right thing, and returned to his unit, but by then it was too late. They had already been shipped out. Eventually, Walt was assigned to a new unit and was transferred to South Beach, Connecticut. When peace arrived via Armistice Day, on November 11, 1918, Walt greeted the truce with ambivalence. He feared that the flu had caused him to miss out on his great adventure.
Just one week later, on November 18, his new unit was roused from bed at 3 AM. “Up everybody! Fifty guys are going to France!”. Walt was still convinced that he had missed his chance and was never going to Europe. Nonetheless, he awoke from his slumber and rushed out of bed. Sure enough, that was the right thing. That morning, Walter E. Disney was the fiftieth name called and by the end of that evening he was aboard the Vaubin bound for France, at long last.
Looking back, one cannot help but wonder how Walt Disney survived both the Spanish Flu and escaped the enormous casualties of World War 1. I shudder to think what our world would look like today if Walt had arrived in France too soon or if he, like so many others, had succumbed to the Spanish Flu of 1918.
But we can’t look back. We only ever have the future. Fortunately, Walt Disney returned home safely from Europe. Once he did, he got serious about his dreams and the world, our world, was never the same again.
One of the gifts in the midst of this current quarantine was Disney’s decision to release Frozen 2 early on its new Disney+ platform. I missed the movie during its theatrical run in December so I enjoyed getting to watch it at home in mid-March. Twenty-three minutes into the movie the troll, Pabbie, tells Elsa and Anna, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”
A lot of us feel frozen these days. Many fear that there is no future. In a world where every day looks like Saturday but feels like Monday, I have no idea what it is that I am supposed to do next. Some days, the best I can do is the next right thing.
And that’s okay.
Getting a blog out to my readers, the first in more than six months, feels like the right thing.
Checking in on the vulnerable seniors at the assisted-living facility where I give a historical lecture each month, feels like the right thing.
Reaching out to individuals across the country and asking them for interviews for “plussing” my History of California class as it pivots from the classroom to remote instruction midway through the semester, feels like the right thing.
None of this is what I had planned for Spring 2020. In fact, Niki and I were supposed to be going to Tokyo Disneyland next month—my #1 bucket list trip and research for book #3 The Worldwide Wisdom of Walt with a focus on Disney’s international parks and cruise ships. Needless to say, that trip…along with all of my Spring speaking events…have been canceled.
I bet your world is equally upside down as well. So, what are you going to do? My recommendation is that you do the next right thing. Whatever that might be:
It doesn’t have to be perfect (this is a global pandemic, after all). It just has to feel right. You still have the future.
Oh, and about the sequel. I liked Frozen 2. A lot. Olaf stole the show, again. The music was more than serviceable without there being a “Let it Go” wormhole song. And let’s all agree that “Lost in the Woods” is an equally awful and amazing homage to the classic rock music videos of the 1980s.
Regarding that other sequel, the good news is that this tumor is significantly smaller than the one in 2014 (we knew the symptoms this time) and most likely benign as well. Surgery is scheduled for June 4 at Cedars Sinai. The not-so-good news is that the surgery is still invasive so recovery will take two months. Niki and I are using the current quarantine as a kind of “practice.” Additionally, I won’t be allowed on most amusement park rides for another two years…just like 2014-2016.
Looking into the future, I am already looking forward to being back in the classroom teaching and back on stage speaking in Fall 2020. In fact, I already know exactly what I am going to do first when I wake up from surgery on the afternoon of Thursday, June 4, 2020. The next right thing.