I recently heard a news snippet about a man who won $8000 in a lawsuit against Disneyland, where he spent three hours stuck on the infamous “It’s a Small World” ride. Whether or not this was a fair settlement is not something I’m going to discuss. What caught my attention wasn’t the lawsuit. It was the ride. At the mention of the phrase “It’s a Small World”, I was immediately transported back to my first experience with the wonderful world of Disney.
I was ten years old, just a few months into fourth grade. Every day of my family’s weeklong stay in Orlando was as magical as any I had known. Including Small World, “the happiest cruise that ever sailed ’round the world”. I stepped into an unmanned gondola, my parents and siblings filing in behind me, settled onto my pink plastic bench and gazed with wide eyes at all of the color and “culture” that had been painted and wired and strung up around me. Here was the world, in miniature. The world in technicolor. The world in costumes and flowers and doll-faced musicians. I turned my head side to side, on rotation from Dutch children sitting in tulips to grass-skirted hula dancers circled around a paper fire. From a dark-haired mariachi band to parka-sporting eskimos waving from their igloo. Was the world really so small? I wondered. So welcoming? So charming?
On exiting the ride I was bid a fond farewell in at least a dozen different languages. None of which I spoke.
It would be another decade before I would travel the world myself. Would get street tacos in Tijuana and dance to a mariachi band in Rosarito. Visit a pancake house in Amsterdam and toss flower petals from a footbridge over a canal lined with bicycles. I would dance a ceilidh in England and sing evensong in Oxford. Sip wine from a rooftop hostel with a late-night view of Rome’s Coliseum. Watch flamenco dancers in Barcelona and puppeteers in Prague. Take a night tour along the Seine as the lights came on in Paris. Drink Guinness with a chap in Dublin and see a calf birthed on the Aryan islands. I would learn that the world is not really so small as I thought it might be. How could so much be held in anything deemed “small”?
And the world’s people, I learned, were not as different as I had imagined. Were not as strange or peculiar or unusual as they seemed spinning on their little pedestals with their feathered headdresses and painted on smiles. The world’s people are as cheerful and scared and excited and broken anywhere as they are in my own country. As I am myself. More than quick flights or shared songs or global connections made possible through the wonder of the Internet, this is what I find makes the world feel small: That all of us hope. That all of us hurt. That in the core of our beings all of us want to feel that we are not alone.
This is one of the primary reasons that I have agreed to be a contributing writer for an international blog, appropriately named “It’s a Small Word.” (Get it? It’s a play on words…or is that worlds?) The brainchild of creator David Fee, the blog will serve as “an ongoing conversation between a small group of geographically disparate folks,” of which I will be one. It is something that couldn’t have happened ten or twenty years ago, when I first took that boat ride through Disney, a project made possible “by the magic of technological interwebtastic modern communications” and “a fundamental urge to curiously connect with our fellow humans”. It is a venture for which I am excited and an experience that promises to teach more than I can anticipate.
I hope you will join me and my fellow international bloggers for an adventure in conversation and an experiment in cross-cultural engagement. For better or worse, I’ll be posting something every Tuesday, and in the meantime please enjoy the reflections and stories of David, Abner, Mikel and Maz.
When you are connected in such a way, perhaps it really is a small world after all.