in Columns Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times

A Life Lesson at Disney’s Space Mountain

Asheville Citizen-Times 9/07/2015 – Ted Alexander, Columnist –

She said she was too scared to go on Space Mountain. I didn’t listen.(Photo: WillMcC/Courtesy of

She said she was too scared to go on Space Mountain. I didn’t listen.(Photo: WillMcC/Courtesy of

The heat was staggering. As my wife, my daughter and I walked across the parking lot, the bus waiting to take us to the main entrance of Disney World shimmered in the sun — a silver mirage in the distance.

I was worn out from an intense week of business travel followed by an early morning flight to Orlando, but my little girl was excited.

After a few rides, she wanted to attempt one of the big attractions, one where she barely met the height requirement. The three of us made small talk as we waited on the zig-zagging line leading to the boarding gate for Space Mountain, a rollercoaster that dives and twists through a simulated black night loaded with shooting stars and distant planets.

After a half-hour, as we approached the loading gates, my daughter changed her mind. It was too scary for her. I could see it in her eyes, hear it in her voice.

Despite her obvious fear, instead of acknowledging what she was feeling, I was instantly aggravated, especially because we had waited all that time to get on the ride. I urged her to gut it out — to get tough.

She moved closer to her mother and watched me. That should have been enough of a signal to get through to me, but I was too far gone.

My wife took our daughter’s hand and headed for one of the stair exits. “We’ll catch up with you later,” she called over her shoulder.

I waited a couple of minutes, still annoyed, then headed down the same set of stairs. Outside, they were gone — lost in the crowds.

I walked several yards, ending up on an empty bench. I sat for the next 15 minutes, staring straight ahead, my arms folded across my chest, the hostile body language obvious to anyone who looked in my direction.

And I didn’t move.

From seemingly nowhere, a line of profoundly challenged children slowly filed past me, each with a section of a long rope looped around his or her waist — a homespun device designed to keep the group together. Two nuns, both faces flushed from the heat, each wearing round-framed, dark glasses, held the front and back ends of the rope.

I turned, not wanting to stare at the struggling youngsters.

When I looked back, the sad line had moved away and was disappearing into the swarms of people.

We’re given indelible moments in life, you know. We don’t ask for them. They appear.

The message was so obvious, anyone would have recognized it.

I had been blessed with a beautiful, loving, healthy daughter, one who dared to express her fears to her father because she trusted him, because he was her touchstone, because he was her safety net. What I had done was throw that love, that honesty, back in her face, essentially claiming her fear was unfounded and urging her to grow up — a response she could never have begun to understand.

An hour later, they found me on the bench. As families walked past, and kids went running by, I knelt in front of her so that we were face to face. I told her I was sorry for what had happened — that I had been wrong, that I wanted her to share everything with me — her fears, her joys, anything that mattered.

She wrapped her arms around my neck and said, “That’s OK, Dad. When I get bigger, we can all go on Space Mountain together.”

Once in a great while, if I’m lucky, I’m given a chance to rise from the ashes of a self-created bonfire. In this case, in addition to my personal inadequacies, I discovered honest, unconditional forgiveness through the innocence of a child.

It all happened a long time ago. She’s married now. Her job takes her to far away cities.

I asked her recently if she recalled that day, that occurrence at Disney World. I briefly described it to her.

She tilted her head to the side, a questioning look in her eyes. “No,” she said, “I don’t remember that at all, but it doesn’t sound like you.”

Maybe so. But it was me.

And though it took much introspection, I eventually managed to put the incident behind me, grateful that I understood what I had done, thankful that I was able to change.

What I haven’t gotten past, what is locked in me forever, is the haunting image of those disabled children trudging ahead, their hearts chronically on the mend, their eyes weary before their time.

They’ll struggle to move forward until they run out of road.

I’d give anything to change that too.


Ted Alexander’s second novel, “After & Before,” will be released Sept. 11. He will be reading from the book and signing copies at 3 p.m. Sept. 27 at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St., Asheville. Everyone is welcome to attend this free event. Books will be for sale.

Ted Alexander lives in Asheville. Contact him at

Learn more about the author and the novels online at