Many people aspire to make their mark on the world. It’s somewhat instinctual to want to do something so big that others will notice and remember. People can spend their lives working tirelessly towards this end. Then someone like Nolan Woodall comes along and sheds light on this truth: It’s not as difficult as all that.
My first encounter with Nolan started off like so many others here. He wanted to be counted as a Neurotic Disney Person. Per request, he took his place on the roster of Disney die-hards as Neurotic Disney Individual #28. But what started as a routine beginning quickly became a series of memorable interactions.
Just like the rest of us Mickey geeks, Nolan was very active online, searching for people who shared his unusual lust for the Disney brand. If something Disney-esque was taking place virtually, Nolan was there. For this reason, it was no surprise to me that he showed up for the birth of inner mouse, The Disney Driven Life’s webcast. In fact, it seemed only natural to have him with me and my co-hosts as we fumbled through the process of going live in cyberspace.
Consistently, Nolan participated in the chatroom while John, Scott, Nicole and I did our best to broadcast the equivalent of a weekly Mad Tea Party. He was always supportive. He was always playful. He was a part of us.
When Nolan made a trip to Disney, inner mouse was ready to party with our fun friend who showed up in the chatroom week after week. The local cast and crew trekked out to Epcot one evening for the sole purpose of spending a few hours hanging out in World Showcase. I’m not sure any of us were prepared for the connection we’d feel by the end of the night.
It’s hard to capture in words the bond that formed over those few hours. Nolan, a devoted fan of the show, expressed countless times how special he felt to get personal time with the very people who entertained him regularly. But, in truth, each of us knew that we were the ones who were privileged.
We learned that Nolan was born with a congenital heart problem. It was serious enough that he was confined to an ECV for his trip. For a guy of his young age, one would expect a frustrated, bitter, downcast and possibly defeated person. But this was not Nolan. He was content, happy . . . even a bit optimistic. He didn’t dwell on his condition. In fact, it was barely ever mentioned. He was ready to laugh it up with the rest of us, and that is exactly what we all did.
By the end of the night we all had gotten a little silly in Mexico, broken bread (school bread) in Norway and communed during some fireworks. And while that stuff was fairly habitual in our lives, somehow having Nolan there made it different. He made us feel like we were important. The fact that we were there really mattered to him. That was Nolan’s gift . . . helping others be aware of their worth. I believe that in this gift, Nolan held the real magic that all of us Disney fans talk about so much.
That evening I parted with Nolan feeling like I had a better perspective on life. It’s not always about the big things. Quite often it is about the little things. It’s not always about being noticed. Sometimes it’s about noticing others. To sum it up, making a mark doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be quite simple . . . as simple as living your life and loving those around you.
Nolan passed away on August 13, 2012. Complications with his heart condition finally got the better of him. When I heard the news, I was broken. And as the news spread online, it was evident that there were countless others that were affected the same way. He had impacted so many with his quiet life, yet it wasn’t hard for me to understand why. I knew that at some point he must have made all these people feel like they mattered to him. I am certain that he also showed them that they had so much for which to be thankful. I know that he helped them see that life is meant to be invested in others. And I know all of this because once upon a time, I spent an evening with Nolan, and he showed me all of these things too.