Once there was a brave young warrior named Little Big Love, and his heart beat for the beautiful Maiden that gathered berries near the river.
Convinced he must have her as his wife he approached her.
“Good Morning beautiful Maiden. I am Little Big Love! And I have chosen you to be my wife.” The warrior smiled confidently.
The Maiden scoffed. “That’s presumptuous. Why would I marry you?”
“Because I am the brave warrior Little Big Love! That is why.”
“A warrior you are, but a lover? Can you be my heart’s desire?”
“Of course! I am Little Big Love.”
“Ha! You’ll need more than a fetching name to have my heart.” The Maiden snatched her basket of berries and disappeared into the tall grass.
Little Big Love was dismayed. He kicked a heavy boulder causing it to tumble into the river. Unsatisfied he pitched every stone he could find into the water, so many that the river, much to its chagrin, was forced to change its course.
His effort continued until his exhaustion overcame his frustration and he collapsed on the riverbank out of breath.
Between gasps, Little Big Love heard a rustle in the grass and spotted the face of a fox peering at him.
“I’ve been watching you.” The Fox said. “I couldn’t help but notice your sorry state. What troubles you?”
The Fox stepped out of the grass.
“The beautiful Maiden would not take my hand in marriage. Me! Little Big Love!”
“Shocking, isn’t it?” The Fox goaded.
“I don’t understand. Why does the Maiden refuse me?”
The Fox stretched its front legs then its hind. It lowered its body to ground and licked its paw. “A woman’s heart is a mystery.”
“I will not give up. I will do whatever it takes to win her heart?”
“And what does her heart desire?” The Fox wondered aloud.
Little Big Love looked to the sky as an eagle passed. “I know! I bet the Maiden desires passion. And nothing is more passionate than the eagle. I will become an eagle, and she will give me her heart.”
The next day Little Big Love soared through the sky. He climbed to heights of the blue expanse, then banked low to the ground and swooped around the Maiden.
“Fair Maiden, it is I, Little Big Love! And I am passionate, just as you desire. Will you give me your heart and marry me?”
“I can see you are very passionate.” Said the Maiden. “But you have made yourself an eagle. I cannot give you my heart. An eagle lives in the sky. I live on the ground. I will not marry you.
Little Big Love flew away dejected and returned to the riverbank where he found the Fox quenching its thirst.
“I was mistaken." Little Big Love sulked. "It is not passion the Maiden seeks.”
The Fox lifted its head from the river. “No? Hmm... A woman’s heart is a mystery. I wonder, what else could her heart desire?” The Fox took another drink from the river.
Little Big Love looked down and saw the paw print of a bear. “I bet it is strength she desires. Yes! That’s it. I will become a bear. She will see my strength and give me her heart.”
The next day Little Big Love found the Maiden gathering wood. He roared as he barreled past her. He toppled trees with the swipe of his paw and removed stumps with the pull of his jaw.
“Beautiful Maiden. It is I, Little Big Love. I am strength, just as you desire. Will you give me your heart and marry me?”
The Maiden jeered. “Your strength is impressive, but you are a bear. I cannot have a husband as large as you. You will not fit in our home, and your teeth will scare the children. No, I cannot give you my heart. I will not marry you.”
Little Big Love crawled back to the riverbank where he found the Fox lying on its back soaking in the warmth of the sun.
“What a fool am I?! It is not strength the Maiden desires.”
The Fox rolled onto its stomach. “No? Hmm...A woman’s heart is a mystery.”
“If she does not want passion and is not impressed by strength, what could she possibly want? Little Big Love pondered.
The Fox rolled onto its back, licked its lips, and let the sun warm its belly. “I’ve heard a woman loves a man who can fill her belly with laughter.”
“That’s it! Oh, Fox, you are so smart. Delight is her desire. And there is nothing more delightful than a peacock. I will become a peacock, and she will give me her heart.
The next day Little Big Love found the Maiden dancing near a wheat field.
“Beautiful Maiden. It is I, Little Big Love, and I have become a peacock so that I might delight you, just as you desire.”
Little Big Love fanned his colorful tail feathers and danced a circle around the maiden. He strutted and trotted with all his heart and soul.
The Maiden was delighted and laughed with great amusement.
Little Big Love was encouraged. “Dear Maiden, I have filled your belly with laughter, now will you give me your heart?”
The Maiden’s laughter subsided. “You have delighted me, but I cannot give you my heart. You have made yourself peacock. A peacock cannot keep me warm during winter snows or keep me safe from the predator that haunts the woods.”
Little Big Love was incensed. “I offer you passion. I offer you strength. I offer you delight. But you tell me that is not what you want.” Little Big Love pleaded, “What does your heart desire?”
The Maiden thought for a moment.
“I desire the Sun to warm me.
The Mountain to call me;
The River to restore me;
And the Wind to move me.
I desire the Earth, my foundation;
The Fire, my mystery;
The Tree, my cover;
The Stars, my guiding light.
I desire the Winter that blankets me;
The Spring that renews me;
The Summer that nurtures me;
The Autumn that transforms me.
I desire –"
Little Big Love interrupted. “Stop. You speak nonsense. The sun, the earth, the winter? No man can be all these things!”
The Maiden shrugged her shoulders. “It is what my heart desires.”
Little Big Love departed. His heart cried and cried and cried. For his one desire was to be the desire of the Maiden’s heart.
Little Big Love returned to his life as a warrior, though he never fought as bravely as he once had.
The Maiden picked berries, gathered wood, and danced near the wheat field. And each day she would peek over her shoulder, to the horizon, to see if the young warrior was coming. But she did not find him.
With each day the Maiden’s heart desired the warrior more and more, for even though the warrior could not be her heart’s desire, her heart loved him for trying.
My family came to visit last week. It was the first trip to California for my little niece and nephew. They had heard about this legendary place where Uncle Nathan lives, but being not-yet five and not-yet three-years-old, they had no concept of where this mythical land was that I would disappear to after visiting for the holidays. That was until last week. But it wasn’t just sunny California they got to experience. I took them to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland.
Trying to explain Disneyland to a 4-and-a-half-year-old who has never been is harder than it sounds. I told her Disneyland is the place where the princesses live. She looked at me skeptically. How do all the princesses live in the same place? Don’t they all have castles?
I explain it another way. “Disneyland is a park.” I see the recognition in her eyes. “But there are no slides or jungle gyms.” The recognition fades. “There are rides that tell stories of the princesses and other characters. You watch the story sort of like how you watch a movie, but the ride tells the story using real characters - but not real people, robot people called animatronics.”
I see the questions surfacing. “So the princesses aren’t real?”
“The princesses are real people, I mean, they are played by real people. So is Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy. You can meet them when you’re not on a story ride with robot people.”
I give up trying to explain it. “We’re going to Disneyland to see fireworks and eat ice cream.” She beams. That she understands.
But Disneyland, I’ve come to see, is not just a place to watch fireworks and electrical parades or a place to excuse your diet for a day or practice the spiritual act of patience while standing in a queue. For all the talk of magic and dreams and imagination, it more than that. It is a place we go to learn how to face our fears.
The first ride we took my niece and nephew on was Alice in Wonderland. They had been watching the animated film and were familiar with the story, so when we mentioned there was something with Alice they latched onto the idea. (Actually, my niece latched onto the idea. My nephew latched on to any idea that his older sister liked.)
The ride is simple enough. We sat securely in our vehicles and entered the world of Alice’s Wonderland. We encountered the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and Tweedledee & Tweedledum. It was all innocent enough until the ride went dark and the Queen of Hearts appeared, frightfully declaring, “Off with their head!” My niece buried her face into my brother’s torso. She would remain like that for rest of the ride only occasionally peeking up to see what she might be missing.
After debarking the vehicle at the ride's conclusion, we asked my niece what she thought. “Did you like it?”
“Yes.” She said timidly. “But it was a little scary.”
In an effort build up my niece’s ride confidence, our next adventures were Dumbo, the Tea Cups, Casey Jr., and the Carousel - rides with no dark parts, no surprises, their paths transparent by the light of day. She liked those rides.
But there was no escaping the dark rides. Eventually, my niece would have to face them again. We asked her if she would go on Snow White. (We didn’t tell her the actual name of the ride is “Snow White’s Scary Adventures”) She was reluctant. “It might be scary.” We knew it was scary but coaxed her on with the promise of a princess balloon if she was brave. She summoned her courage and rode the ride. When she exited, she was a bit apprehensive. “I liked it, but it was a little scary.”
Over the next few days, we rode more “light” rides and “dark” rides. As my niece's bravery was tested, her joy grew. After riding Peter Pan and Pinocchio, she exited with a smile gleefully recalling the funny parts, not the scary parts.
On the second day, while practicing patience, I overhead an anxious teenage girl tell her friends that she was going to ride the California Screamin’ roller coaster for the first time today. She warned them. “It’s going to get real.”
This, for me, is part of the magic of Disneyland. Sure it is a celebration of family and optimism, a celebration of story, creativity, and magic. But it is also a testing ground, a place where children (and adults) can learn to face their fears with their family and friends by their side. Where kids are rewarded for bravery with a princess balloon, ice cream, and a fireworks show.
It is an introduction to one of life’s truths: the path we travel is not always illuminated by the light. There will be dark and scary times, moments when it “gets real.” But with your family and friends by your side, you will be okay.
The next time my niece visits Disneyland there will be more tests – The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Tours - a little darker, a little scarier, a little more thrilling. Those tests of courage will come in due time, and her family will be there with her when it does.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES