Before I start telling the story of Ben's final farewell to Snow White's Scary Adventures, I have a long list of people that need to be thanked. Without the efforts of these folks, Ben's last hours with SWSA would have been mostly sad and disappointing. Instead it became one of the most remarkably joyful events that I have ever experienced.
First on the list is Disney cast member Carl Bond. I have known Carl for several years now, having sung with him in the Garden Community Choir. He is a great singer, a great father, and an all around stand-up kind of guy. He also happens to work as an area manager over at Epcot. It was Carl who got the ball rolling on making the 31st a special day for Ben. He might try to say that he didn't do much, he's that sort of person, but he was the initial spark that set things in motion. Without Carl, nothing would have happened.
Next is another Disney cast member, Stacey Patrone. She is the one who swung into action and truly made the magic. She was passionately committed to creating a special moment for Ben, and marshalled every tool at her disposal towards that end. She was there early on in the evening to be sure that Ben was ok and that he had everything he needed. She arranged for a very special meeting with Snow White, and by the end of the night she moved mountains to make sure that Ben's night was capped with not just a Magical Moment, but with an Epically, Staggeringly Amazing Magical Moment of Biblical Proportions. Picture in your head the ideal of the perfect Disney cast member, and you are about halfway there to describing Stacey. My family owes her a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.
The next person I need to thank, I don't even know her name (and probably never will). She is a Friend of Snow White, and the time she spent with my son last night was simply amazing. Ben was enraptured with her from the moment she walked through the door, and it was clear to me that not only was she a superb actress but that she had spent some time in advance getting to know the details of Ben's ten year history with SWSA. When she talked to Ben, she asked him about some very specific things that wouldn't be obvious, but which meant a lot to him. I don't know how long she was with Ben - it felt like it was a solid 15-20 minutes. During that time she was completely engaged with Ben and never let up for even a moment. I imagine that she collapsed from exhaustion as soon as she went backstage. Her passion and commitment to making the moment for Ben was breathtaking, and every one of us that was within earshot (both my family & friends, and the other cast members involved) were nearly in tears the entire time from seeing the pure and unbridled joy on Ben's face.
I would also like to thank my friend Robert
Lughai for his help in documenting the event. I first met Robert
a few years ago when he commented on my blog. He writes the very excellent Filmic Light: A Snow White Sanctum
blog, and his own personal connection to Snow White makes him uniquely predisposed to appreciate Ben's passion. Robert
also happens to be a talented filmmaker and editor. He was already planning on coming down to say his own goodbyes to SWSA, and he very graciously offered to film Ben's last few hours with the ride. Because of Robert
's efforts, Ben will have a keepsake film to look back on in the years to come. I have not yet seen the footage, but I am awed by the professionalism that Robert
exhibited throughout the evening in documenting as much as possible while also taking care to remain as unobtrusive as possible. I look forward to seeing the finished product, although I know it will take some time.
Thanks also go to Kenneth Sundberg (a.k.a. KenNetti), proprietor of Snow White's Adventures: The Tribute
, who flew all the way from Finland to bid the ride farewell -- and touched our family in the process. Again thanks to Kevin Yee from MiceAge.com
who was kind enough to introduce himself midway through the evening and offer to send me some of the pictures he had taken. One of those pictures turned out to be my favorite of all the ones that I have seen so far, capturing Ben with Snow White in a candid moment of pure delight. There were also several other random strangers who introduced themselves over the course of the evening and offered their support for Ben. As the night progressed, virtually everyone in the crowd seemed to understand what was going on with Ben and gladly helped in making his experience a special one. I didn't realize it until the next morning, when my wife pointed it out to me, but as my family was so focused on Ben's last night with SWSA, dozens of random strangers were tweeting and bloggiing about Ben and how much his experience was touching their hearts. It is humbling to think that Ben managed to reach so many people.
Finally, I need to thank all of the other Disney cast members who worked the ride that night. Every single one of them connected with Ben in one way or another over the course of the evening, whether it was through a well timed high five, a bit of friendly encouragement, or some other kindness. Particularly as the night drew towards its climax, each cast member to a person exhibited complete dedication to creating a lasting memory for my son. These were not just people doing their jobs, or even people showing excellent customer service. No, those amazing men and women became personally invested in the event and gave their all so that one autistic young man would have the most memorable experience of his life.
On behalf of Benjamin and of the rest of our family: Thank you. Really, truly, thank you so very much. I simply have no words. (Well, I mean, aside from all of these words I just typed, I guess...)
Next up: SWSA Final Night, Part 1 - The Beginning of the End