When you first begin your career with Walt Disney, they tell you how you will have the ability to create “magical moments” for our guests. Personally, I never thought I would experience this moment every veteran cast member discusses. But two weeks ago, I did.
The minutes were ticking by incredibly slow. I watched as my breath danced up into the cold night air.
I never felt so helpless in my entire life— my body was trembling from the cold and my fever.
The bug that had plagued everyone else in the jungle had finally made its way to me and it was attacking with a vengeance. All I wanted was to retreat to the comfort of my bed where I could get warm and sleep.
Just when I thought I was going to die right there on the dock, my coworker, Courtney, walked over to me and handed me the rotation slip.
EMILY GARCIA, please go to BOAT 004– CONGO CONNIE.
With a trembling hand, I took the slip and walked down the dock to board the next available boat, Connie. Tears were forming in my eyes. I liked my job, but the betrayal of my body left me dreading the trip down the river. It is always twenty degrees cooler on the water than the dock. It was 1:13 in the morning, right in the middle of “Extra Magic Hours.” For all I knew, I was going to take an empty boat out on the river and freeze.
I pulled up to the loading dock and stared back at my two fellow skippers. Their shoulders hunched around themselves trying to stay warm. We all kept our eyes on the dispatch lanterns, waiting for the cue for me to begin my journey. That’s when it happened, the sound of tired, little feet puttering down the dock: guests.
It was a family of four— your typical, everyday tourists. The dad was carrying the toddling daughter, while the mom held the hand of the rowdy little boy. I pretended not to mind the fact that the little boy had completely disregarded my simple instructions within twenty seconds of entering the boat. I took on my role as the obnoxiously bubbly skipper who never seemed to have a bad day.
As I started to turn my attention to the first scene of the ride, I noticed a pin on the little boy’s shirt. I looked below the glossy title, I’m Celebrating! trying to decipher the smudged handwriting describing the cause for celebration. I glanced back at his mom.
“What are we celebrating tonight, folks?” I asked in the trembling version of my usually chipper voice.
“We are celebrating Bennett’s last dose of chemo radiation,” the mom smiled. She placed her arm around the little boy, “Bennett has undergone chemo therapy for nearly two years, but as of last month, he is finally in remission and cancer-free.”
My heart immediately sunk. I slowed down the boat to a stop and knelt down so I could look into Bennett’s eyes. They were a soft grey color, and they sparkled under the show lights of the boat.
“How old are you, Bennett?” I asked.
“Four!” He loudly proclaimed, shooting his fingers up in my face.
This little boy had spent half of his life in hospitals. That night was the first time he ever had the chance to feel like a normal, healthy little boy.
Without thinking, I stuck my free hand in the pocket of my pants to grab a Junior Skipper’s card. I pulled it out and handed it to Bennett.
“Bennett?” I asked very quietly, “Would you like to be the world’s youngest Junior Skipper and drive my boat?”
His eyes lit up as he shot up off of his seat.
“Yeah!” he screamed. His excitement made me laugh.
“Okay,” I said as I stepped to the side to let him control the wheel. “Let me give your mom your boating license, and I’ll control the speed.”
For the first time that night, my hand did not tremble as I handed Bennett’s mom the small card. Recognizing the tension in her throat as she fought back tears, I turned back towards the river and Bennett— giving her and her husband a moment to gather themselves.
Even under the haze of my cold medicine, I felt the intense awareness of my body and how lucky I was. When I grew up, I took my health and body for granted, I stopped taking care of myself. Yet, when my body had let me down once to a bad cold, I felt entirely betrayed. My frustration suddenly became folly as I stood next to a child who just recently discovered the beauty of health after a lifetime of illness.
We pulled back into the dock and said our goodbyes. Bennett’s parents asked for a picture with me and Bennett holding his little “license.” Then they were gone, and I was left alone in my boat once more.
At the time, I never considered the impact of that moment. But now, as I sit here at my kitchen table preparing myself for another day at work two weeks later, I cannot help but think about that night.
Then I remember what my facilitators told me on my first day of work. “You will have the opportunity to create magical moments for families.” I will always carry the memory of that night with me. Not as the worst night of my life; but as the night where I was given a magical moment by a little Junior Skipper with grey eyes named Bennett.