I grew up loving roller coasters. We lived exactly 2 hours from Disney World
in Florida, and back in the 70’s and 80’s, Florida residents could get a rate that would not require taking a second mortgage out on your house to purchase tickets for a family of four. So we went ALL the time. Disney World was my playground. It wasn’t until I was in college and met others from around the globe that I realized that some people – in fact, most people – had never even been to the Magic Kingdom (gasp)!
My brother and I had the layout memorized and took great pride in the fact that we didn’t need a map. The first stop was always Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, which we gleefully ran to upon entering the park, down Main Street, USA and across the little bridge before the heat, humidity, and crowds made running through Disney impossible. I can still feel the relief of the air conditioning as we entered the building, our eyes temporarily blinded as we adjusted to the sudden darkness after the bright sunlight.
Now some people will argue that Space Mountain is not a “real” roller coaster… my husband is one of them. True, there are no big drops and loop-de-loos. I get it. But for a little girl growing up who was relatively shy, it was the time of my life. The moment we got off the ride, we would run right back into the line, repeating this step as many times as possible until the line became too long (and back then, “too long” meant more than 15 minutes). It never got old – the excitement and anticipation of climbing into that Space Ship and plunging into darkness. I was the most alive I felt as a child.
But as an adult, things are different.
Roller coasters don’t thrill me like they once did. It’s not that I get motion sickness (although I have had a rocky rides that resulted in a head-banging headache) and I’m not afraid of heights. It’s the fact that I have no control. Starting the slow climb up the steep hill to the top of the first drop grips my heart with fear. I want to get off but I can’t. I am trapped. I spend most of the ride with my jaw clenched, praying for it to end. What happened to me?
I’ve been pondering on this a lot lately, because, go figure, I married someone who is a self-proclaimed roller coaster addict, and our 6-year-old daughter shares his obsession. She is not tall enough to ride some of the biggest ones with Dad, so while he waits in line for the mega-thrill rides, I am forced to escort her on the not-so-small coasters and she screams “again, again!” (echoes of a girl a long time ago) and I try not to show my fear and she drags me on over and over.
As fate would have it, an article landed in my inbox about how life is a roller coaster – probably one of the most well-known metaphors in the English language – and the author’s advice was simple: remember to breathe, and surrender to the sensation. So I took this quite literally and decided to try it on our last trip to Hershey Park. I focused on my breath as we climbed that dreaded first hill and made an effort to notice the view, which was quite lovely. As we crested and began the inevitable fall, I threw my arms up with my squealing daughter and smiled. I surrendered.
It was amazing.
I don’t think it’s an accident that we often compare life to a roller coaster ride. As a volunteer at the hospital, I am witness to the highest of highs and lowest of lows, sometimes within minutes of each other. I see children survive cancer and flourish, and cry at funerals with impossibly tiny caskets.
I don’t know how many more roller coasters are in my future, but I am going to stop avoiding them. I may not have any control, but I do have something far more precious: FAITH. I will survive the ride. And perhaps, just maybe, I will even enjoy the journey. All I have to do is breath, open my arms to the sky, and surrender.