Growing up in a protective religious community was a lot like living in Disneyland. Everything was clean and shiny and wholesome and orderly. There were many opportunities to develop our talents and perform. We tried very hard to bring a smile to everyone’s face proclaiming the good news that all could be saved.

There was an established routine and it was the same every week. You knew what to do and what to say and what was expected of you. Everyone did their best to follow the rules. Compliance was strictly enforced. Weekly pep talks kept everyone revved up and on side.

There were pre-written answers to all the frequently asked questions. And further inquiry was discouraged. If they’d heard Leonard Cohen propose that cracks are how the light gets in, they would have disagreed. In such a closed community it was important to always be on the watch for anything that could disrupt the peace.

When I was little it was all fun and games and comfort. But as I grew older I began to realize that this land had edges. That the whole kingdom was, in metaphorical terms, just about the size of Disneyland. I was curious and yearned to cross the drawbridge of our castle to explore the world on the other side.

My parents didn’t deny the existence of a world beyond our kingdom. Many visitors came from abroad after all, as tourists or refugees. But they warned me that beyond our borders was a dark and dangerous place, full of traps and terrors of all kinds, a place of chaos, and many who ventured there returned damaged or not at all. They feared that if I travelled I might wander too far, lose my way, forget who I was and where I come from.

But I am a venturer. I would not listen. As soon as I reached legal age I crossed that drawbridge and headed into the chaos of that wider world. I never forgot where I come from and I visit from time to time, but I never came back for good.

Disneyland is fun to visit if you’ve never lived there. Fun to live in if you’re not the type to long for lands beyond the gate. But to return from abroad as a native daughter is a surreal experience.

To step through that gate is to step into another dimension. It’s like entering some kind of storybook. Like Alice through the looking glass or Gulliver in Lilliput. Only in this case the book is the bible, and it is lived out as a script, all 66 books at once with the stories overlapping.

I know the routine, memorized my lines long ago, fall into my part in our communal play. It makes my mother happy, it makes my father proud, to see me perform as I used to do. “She always excels,” dad says.

I feel so many conflicting emotions at once. The bittersweet familiarity, loss and longing, distance and displacement. I go through the motions but at the end of the day I’m exhausted.

Every now and then I attempt to improvise. But this is Disneyland and branding requires a certain sacrifice of spontaneity for the greater good and consistent messaging. I go along.

When I’ve done my duty and played my role as well as I can given all of the internal conflicts and inconsistencies I’m holding together, then I say my goodbyes and make my way back over the drawbridge. I start walking and break into a run and I just want to run and run and maybe run naked and turn cartwheels and climb mountains and ford rivers and burst into spontaneous song. And I never, ever want to go back again.

Except that I love my mother and father. And they live there. They have never crossed the threshold of their world and never will. The only way for me to know them (they will never know me) is to go there. So I do.

Three morals in this story:

1. Disney Land may be a paradise for children but it’s a small world after all.
2. Some people find security in working from a script.
3. I often feel that pretending is the price of going home.

Yours with creativity and imagination,
Darlene

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