In all the land, there was no other town like Clearview. Just outside of Clearview there was an amusement park being constructed called WonderLand, and though no one knew exactly what it was like, you could tell by the colored lights and the towering roller coasters that in all the land, there was no place as fun and impressive as WonderLand. The person behind the construction of WonderLand was a man named Edward Manuel, and in all the land, there was no one as influential and powerful and wise as Mr. Manuel. He had decided to build WonderLand for everyone, because in all the land, no one loved people more than Edward Manuel.
If you asked any of the residents of Clearview, their town was clearly the best. A stranger passing through might not even be able to tell, but the residents would be happy to point out how pleasingly the birds sang, how soft and warm the wind would blow, and how the blooming trees smelled sweeter there than anywhere else. The streets bustled with town pride. On Friday nights, the whole town would show up to cheer on their football team–Especially when Clearview played their big rival, Sunnyview. It was a rivalry that went back hundreds of years…. That game between the Clearview High Crusaders and the Sunnyview Saints always seemed to bring out the worst in everyone. The kids would make signs that said “Our town is the best!” or “More like CLOUDYview!” or “You guys are going to burn in Hell!” Things got pretty intense….
It was into this intensity that Edward Manuel decided to announce the upcoming Grand Opening Celebration of WonderLand. The construction and last minute details took up much of his time, so his son went into the town to let them know what was happening and hand out tickets for the event of a lifetime. Usually, if you wanted an invitation for an event like this, you had to do something really great at work, or you had to know someone important, or you had to be rich enough to pay for it. But for this celebration, it wasn’t about what you did or who you knew or how much money you had…. These tickets weren’t for sale. To get a ticket, all you had to do was ask for it.
People had very different reactions to those tickets. Some people asked for a ticket, and some people didn’t. Others never even heard about the tickets! Some had been scammed by ticket giveaways before, and they figured this one was fake as well. Some used to have a ticket, but lost it. Some took a ticket, but they were never really sure that it was actually going to work. Some felt like they needed to pull their ticket out and show it to every single person they met, letting others know how much THEY needed a ticket. Some seemed to only hang out with other ticket holders. Some even started turning up their noses at people without a ticket, because some–and this is the strangest thing–started feeling like the simple act of asking for a ticket meant that they had somehow earned their admission…. They started to believe that they DESERVED that ticket.
The son tried to explain that his dad wasn’t giving out tickets because of how good they were, but because he loved them. He wanted it to be an act of kindness…. Something that wasn’t based on what people deserved, but instead something that was based on how much he loved them. Inside the town, everything was based on “what people deserved,” but for this big party he was throwing, he wanted things to be different. He didn’t want people getting in because of something THEY did–He wanted it to be because of something HE did.
Many people suspected that Edward Manuel had done things this way because he wanted the people of the town to be so inspired by this act of love that they would love each other in this same way–A love that comes as a response to being loved is a powerful thing. For so long, people had played by a set of rules that said, “You get what you deserve,” but with this WonderLand, these tickets, this son…. With one act, he had shown them a different way. A better way. A way that didn’t focus on people getting what they deserved, but instead, a way that acknowledged that everyone–no matter who they are–deserved to be loved.
But really, no one knew for sure exactly what was going in Edward Manuel’s mind when he decided to do this act of extravagant love. How could they?
Years went by without an opening…. There were rumors surrounding the Grand Opening of WonderLand. Some people thought WonderLand was never going to open, and others swore up and down that it was going to open very, very soon. Some people thought that only certain special tickets would actually get you in, others thought that tickets had to be validated somehow, and still other thought that people would be able to get in even if they didn’t have a ticket. Someone even started a horrible rumor that everyone who didn’t get into WonderLand was going to get tortured…. FOREVER!! This scared a lot of people, even though it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. This didn’t sound like Edward Manuel–Especially not as the son described him. He was a powerful man, and certainly there was enough room in WonderLand…. It would make him seem quite monstrous to let all those people without tickets get TORTURED!!!
But again, no one really knew for sure how it was going to go. These were all just rumors–None of the people from the town had ever even met Edward Manuel face-to-face…. They were all just going off of the word of the one who was handing out the tickets.
Finally, the day came for the Grand Opening, and the line to get in wound back and forth. The people standing in line looked around, and many were very surprised at what they saw. They were surprised to see people from Sunnyview standing in line–Many people had assumed, for some reason, that the tickets were only passed out in Clearview. They were also surprised to see people waiting in line who they knew for a FACT did not have a ticket–Did they think they were going to get in without a ticket!??! And most surprising was seeing the person who everyone somehow immediately recognized as Edward Manuel himself, standing at the gate and working the turnstile.
As the line grew nearer to the entrance, people with tickets could clearly see Mr. Manuel waving in people who had no ticket. Sometimes, he would even signal to have some of those people in the back of the line come up to the front! Seeing this stirred deep memories of watching other kids open presents, and deep feelings of “No fair!” Some people began to grumble, “What the hell is this?!?! HE doesn’t have a ticket. I Have a ticket!!” Even some of the ones who believed the ugly rumor about ticketless folks getting tortured seemed genuinely disappointed that people without tickets were being let in. They yelled, “What’s the point of this ticket anyway??” They honestly didn’t know. They thought it was all about WonderLand…. When it was always about their heart. They thought of WonderLand like a lifeboat on a cold sea, with its passengers pushing away drowning people with their oars, frightened that too many people would capsize the boat.
Still, other people cheered when Edward Manuel waved the ticketless people in. Many of those ticketless people were their friends, and they had held onto hope that they would get to ride a few rides and drink a few beers with them in WonderLand. “It’s his park. He can do what he wants,” they said. “It’s not like I earned this ticket anyway. It was a gift! Am I any more deserving of admission that that person?” It was a good question….
But the important question was never about who’s getting into WonderLand and who’s not…. Who could know that? Who could ever claim to know the mind of a man like Edward Manuel? The question was always about your heart. Are you the sort of person who feels like you’ve been wronged when someone is let in without a ticket? Or are you the sort of person who holds onto hope, who applauds grace being extended to someone who is not you, who cheers like crazy when someone some poor, ticketless soul gets waved in from the back of the line? Which sort of person would you rather be….