As I think and write tonight I am sitting on the 10th floor of Bay Lake Tower of the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. Out the window I can see “Cinderella’s Castle” all lit up with icicle lights for Christmas. The fireworks show just ended.
I almost always read a book to prepare for a trip: When I traveled to England, I read Emerson’s account of his travels there. When I traveled to Israel, I read Twain’s account of his travels there. On this trip to Florida, I read Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Written in 1912 Germany, this is a classic piece of 20th century literature. The first sentence says it all, and yet reveals very little:
One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.
What an appropriate book for Disney World! I mean, bippity boppity boo, right? And Mickey is, after all, a monstrous verminous rodent. I know, I hear you saying “that sounds so dark, and Disney is so bright.” Bah.
Though Kafka is not generally thought of as a bright, cheery writer, and the World of Disney is not widely accepted as a depressing, foreboding environment, I submit the opposite of each and therefore the similarity between the two. Hang on for a bumpy ride:
In Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa is a young man who lives with his mother, father and sister. Initially – as in before the story even starts – he is the breadwinner for this lower middle class German family, and he takes some pride in his winning of the bread. Father is old, overweight and mostly unable to work, Mother has little marketable skill, and sister, though intelligent and talented with a violin, again isn’t able to pay the bills. So you would think that the breadwinner turning into a “verminous bug” would be devastating for the family. Dark, right? But by the end of the book, this very misfortune is what turns the family around and leads them into better times, more prosperity, happiness and contentment. Happy, yes?
Disney is a world of princes and princesses and magic: Little girls dressed up as princesses, candy and ice cream, singing and dancing, and dreams coming true with some sparkle out of the end of Tinkerbell’s wand. Happy, right?
Or is it a world of villains, debauchery and sorcery? The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is all about thievery, objectifying women, drunkenness – you know – pirate stuff. There were “rum bottles” floating in the water. I don’t even like rum. We have to accept that a noble hero simply cannot show his strength without a villain of at least mediocre power to accentuate it. It’s all about the yin and the yang. Whether the conservative Christian world approves or not, Walt Disney World seems to invite and embrace this. I can’t think of a type of people that I did not see represented here, except for the non-moneyed. Most skin tones, most nationalities, LBGTQH (lesbian, bi, gay, trans, queer, hetero), liberals, conservatives, MAGAS, socialists, et cetera. And the real Disney Magic is: nobody gives a crap about the other people’s personal views because they are so self-absorbed that they are mostly polite so as not to ruin their own experience because they paid so much for it. I digress, or do I?
At WDW everyone seems comfortable in their own skin, however tattooed, dark, pale or exposed it may be. And this brings us back to Kafka. Gregor was waking up from anxious dreams and found himself to be a verminous bug. I wonder why he was so anxious? Had he long desired to be someone, or something else? Eager to escape the pressure of his human role, maybe? Did he feel that he didn’t fit in or wasn’t understood to the point that those anxieties manifested in this way?
We all have inclinations and predispositions, some of which we suppress and some of which we entertain and even indulge. Sometimes we give ourselves over to them. They can be good, bad, saintly or sinful. To some the inclinations will be disgusting; to others, irresistible. Gregor’s was disgusting, even to himself at first, but the more he was what he couldn’t avoid, the more comfortable he was in his own body. Within weeks he went from not knowing how to move his multiple, skinny, disproportionately sized, bug legs to being able to scamper across the ceiling with them. Are those who have an unexplainable, unavoidable desire to be a different gender or to couple with the same gender any worse than those who use lies to escape difficult situations or to get ahead? Both actively choose “sin,” right? Both make it a lifestyle, correct? But lying is SO much more acceptable, as is greed, lust, etc.
Walt Disney World is not a place where everything is OK, its just a place where nobody wastes their time complaining about the “bigot” in front of them or the “freak” behind them on Space Mountain or Peter Pan’s Flight. Everyone has better things to do. Live and let play.
So really, is it a choice, or were they “born that way?” I can’t say I know, truly. I suspect that it falls into the irresistible urge or inclination category. I can’t really say exactly when it began, but I have always liked Oreos. It wasn’t a problem early on; but as I got older and had the freedom to act on it when I wanted, I started gaining weight. I finally realized a had a problem. Gluttony? Must we use THAT word? Love is Love, right? All that sugar when your body isn’t made for it is bad. It screws up bodily functions, size and shape, and that starts affecting even your relationships. Too much sugar keeps my medications from working correctly and that leads to more problems. I suppose I choose it, but sometimes I can’t seem to resist that inclination. It is almost as if IT chose ME. Sin? Yes. Against God’s will? I’m sure of it. Against the 10 Commandments? Depends on interpretation. Does that mean it is ok? Not so much.
In Kafka’s book he shows three classic responses to the “coming out” of any particular individual. The dad simply wants to kill the bug. Dad no longer saw him as his son so much as a different entity altogether. Looking from the outside in, it seemed a little too easy to let Gregor go once he was repulsed and couldn’t understand. This is such a common response. I can hear a Dad put his deeper emotions aside and say “Get out of my house! You’re not the man I raised.”
Gregor’s mom, on the other hand, is so very shocked and dismayed that she initially faints. After being overwhelmed with the magnitude of it all, Gregor’s mom finally mustered up the courage to visit her poor son, but still just couldn’t quite stomach the transformation. She fought hard to accept her son for what he was, but this was just not what she planned for and as much as she wanted to keep her son, she could not accept what he now was.
Gregor’s sister’s name was Grete. I want to be a Grete. I want to help people through their struggles and let them work the struggle out with the Creator. Grete saw the verminous bug in the adjoining room of their small apartment as her brother, regardless of his new look and changed behavior. She continued to love him and she tended to his needs when others couldn’t do it. She communicated with him when the others wouldn’t or couldn’t. She worked at maintaining the relationship that God built, in spite of the circumstances.
Gregor’s behavior changed through the story, as much as his body did. At first he was confused and didn’t know what to do with these new feelings and inclinations. He didn’t know how to move about and could hardly stand to see himself in a mirror. (take that both ways) As time moved on, he came to accept that which he couldn’t control, and finally, reluctantly, embraced it to the point he didn’t feel like he had to stay hidden. He came out. That didn’t work out well for Gregor because he was the only dynamic character in this story. When he scampered into the living room, a tragic, traumatic, but understandable show of panic ensued. In the ruckus, Dad hit him and injured him. Arguably, he became too bold with himself, parading himself around more than his loved ones could tolerate when he was quite aware of how it made THEM feel. He never recovered from his father’s attack.
Life is difficult for both sides of the equation, and neither side should discount the other’s struggle. I really wish all this was as simple as “I was born this way,” or “He chose a sinful lifestyle so He should be shunned.” But I am convinced that this is no easier for the LGBTQ community than eating less or buying less or giving up income or swallowing self-righteous pride for anyone else.
I choose to be the compassionate one. I’m pretty sure Christ did the same. I am trained as a conciliator and mediator and I have seen one too many families destroyed as was Gregor’s. I want to help people keep their families and friends when it is possible. It wasn’t just that Gregor became a bug, but that everyone failed to accept him and they all lost compassion for one another. The loss of compassion and the resulting rejection and injuries are what killed the family. It didn’t have to happen. It doesn’t have to happen. We can re-learn to love but we have to love enough to try. I believe I can help with that.