A few years back, our family took a memorable trip with some friends to the Walt Disney World resort in Florida. Among the many things that impressed us about that place is how everyone who works at the resort contributes to the experience. It is no accident that the over 50,000 Disney employees, from the characters in the theme parks to all the bus drivers and security guards, are referred to as “cast members,” each with a role to play in making each guest’s visit a magical one. I can honestly say that I have never been anywhere where quite literally each and every staff person you encounter is this kind, helpful, accommodating and in some instances, even inspiring.
For instance, late one evening toward the end of the week, we were sitting on the curb of the main street of Disney-MGM Studios, which, if you haven’t been there, is made up to look like a street in Hollywood during the 1930’s – this, in and of itself, is really something to see, but admittedly, after a long and busy day with lots of walking we were all pretty tired and waiting for the rest of our group to return so we could head back to the hotel. In particular, my daughter Sarah was looking pretty weary, glum and not at all as energetic, or “zip a dee doo dah,” as it were, as she’d been earlier in the day.
It was at this point, however, that joy intervened – in the person of one of Disney’s custodians, a street sweeper who was busily and happily working his way down the street cleaning up after the crowd that was now beginning to dissipate. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure if he was whistling, but he might as well have been, because this man was, in the words of a Jimmy Buffett song, “bouncing every step” – that is, until he saw Sarah and the rest of our crew. At this point, this cast member stopped dead in his tracks, looked squarely at Sarah and her friend Katie, and said, “You know, I think you dropped your smile!” Then, this man, a perfect stranger, started talking to and joking with our children – and guess what? As tired as we all were that night, we all found our smiles again, thanks to a random street sweeper!
I’ve always marveled at what a simple, yet utterly powerful gesture that was; a glorious reminder of how a smile and a kind word can so completely transform a situation or change a moment for another person for the better! And I have to confess something: this is one area where, as corny as it sounds, I do wish that life could be a little bit more like Disney World!
These days, still relatively new to this part of the world, I often find myself traversing a sea of unfamiliar faces. But as I look at the faces of some of the people I encounter each day, I’m struck by how you can tell, without knowing them at all and just by looking at them, how glad they are to be alive, and how filled up they are with joyful anticipation of what’s to come. By the same token, however, there are also always a few you see who have very obviously dropped their smiles somewhere! There are those, to be perfectly honest with you, whose frowns always seem to be in place, sometimes with a scowl or heaving sigh to go along with it!
You even see this amongst church people sometimes, and frankly, I’ve never quite been able to understand it – why would we live out our faith in God with such long, drawn faces? Isn’t it a good thing to be in presence of the Lord and in the company of God’s people? Isn’t it a miraculous, life-changing time whenever the Holy Spirit moves in and through? How does life cease to be joyful and become for some little more than something to be endured or to find fault with?
I’m please to report that such dour expressions are decidedly not what I see from the vantage point of my new pulpit at East Church, and speaking as a long-time pulpit dweller, that’s a wonderful thing indeed! Yet, I dare say there’s not one of us who hasn’t at one time or another lost our smile somewhere along the way.
Life can be a difficult and challenging thing at times, no doubt – but it can be made better when we seek to embrace this life with the same kind of joy, kindness, and extravagant care that we experienced that evening from the Disney street sweeper. Moreover, there’s a “pay it forward” element of this that we can’t ignore; because when we share the joyful kindnesses we’ve experienced, others begin to see the love of Jesus in us, and thus come know that love for themselves – and isn’t that, ultimately, what it’s what our Christian mission is all about?
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry