Once upon a time, my sister Melissa turned 42. And on this birthday, as she had upon so many birthdays before, she made one wish: to celebrate at her favorite place on Earth, Disneyland!
Proving that age ain’t nothin’ but a number, Melissa embarked upon her theme park odyssey with the zest and zeal only the young at heart possess. Lucky for me, some family traits don’t branch far along the family tree, and I was only too happy to grab the mouse by the ears – err, bull by the horns – and join my sis in some Disney debauchery. “YOLO” isn’t just the county this chic lives in, it’s a way of life! (Yes, Melissa DOES live in Yolo County. Because, of course.)
OK, so we didn’t do anything worth getting thrown into the infamous underground jail for (Although I threatened! Who wouldn’t want to get locked up by Little John?), but we did have a blast eating junk food, riding fast roller coasters, seeing Johnny Depp (for reals), and otherwise just being obnoxious kids. Except we aren’t in third or fourth grade – more like our third or forth decade of LIFE. Doesn’t matter. YOLO.
Melissa has cognitive and physical disabilities that have always made her daily life a balance between a challenge and many blessings. Challenge because she can’t do or understand things as easily as most of us, and that creates frustration for her and sometimes confusion and judgement from the people she interacts with. Blessing because more often than not, the very traits that make her “different” are also the things that bring out a wellspring of grace and love from the wonderful people of the world. The fact of the matter is, Melissa is a pretty happy woman, and she’ll be a Mickey’s uncle if you aren’t going to greet life with a happy smile, too!
I think I know why Melissa loves Disneyland so much: It’s the one place she truly feels free and accepted. Walt Disney wanted his humble little theme park to be a place where the young, and the young at heart, could come and lose themselves in a world of imagination and fantasy. It has always been a place focused on promoting positivity and providing a personalized experience. In keeping step with their unique brand of all-encompassing customer service, Disney has always been at the forefront of inclusivity. A trip to one of the Disney parks is truly a chance for us ALL to have our inner child cherished.
Accompanying my sister around Disneyland and California Adventure for two solid days was a chance for me to see the world through her eyes. (Eyes which clearly have laser-sharp focus for Space Mountain and the Matterhorn). It was also an opportunity for me to witness the care and kindness of people from all stages and walks of life. Watching the news or surfing the ‘Book, we only see the extremes of human behavior: grown children slinging slurs and verbal dirt at each other like playground bullies, or a heroic good Samaritan saving a cat/dog/dolphin/orangutan from imminent doom. What we don’t see are the leagues of everyday folks – like you and me – that live our lives with consideration for the lives of others. Melissa and I met so many good people in those two days, enough to remind us that the “Happiest Place on Earth” is also filled with the “Nicest People on the Planet.”
Because I’m a photographer, my birthday gift to Melissa was the gift of remembrance. Between pushing her wheelchair up and down deceptively steep ramps (“pull your brake!!”) and sipping on Coke and a cold beer in the food plaza (thank you thank you thank you Karl Strauss), I was snapping shots of my sister enjoying her Disney experience. Below are a handful of my favorites.
Happy birthday sis-tah!! May you never stop being young at heart. YOLO.
Your lil’ sis,