Friday, October 2, 2015

Life Lessons from the Roller Coaster

Every year, LtDan's company throws a big party at Six Flags over Texas.  The park is closed to the public and it's a big employee party, so it's not crowded and there are nearly no lines.  Our kids look forward to it every year, as well they should.  It's always in the fall, so the chance of fantastic fall weather is about 50% (it's Texas - we could be freezing cold or sweltering in the heat - you just never know).  This year, the evening was absolutely perfect and everyone had a blast.  Wandering around at Six Flags always makes me nostalgic - for my own trips there as a teen, and then for when the kids were little.  Once I walked in desperate circles looking for our littlest guy Aaron, only to realize I was holding his hand and dragging him along with me.  Ha!  Those days are long gone - no one needs me to hold their hand anymore.

All night long, I looked in awe at the 79° angle plunge of the new Texas Giant roller coaster.  The first drop looked straight down to me.  A straight down plunge from 153 feet.  NO WAY.  No way would I EVER ride that.  But, when faced with compellingly convincing young people who are willing to lie to you and tell you that oh yes, Mom, this is the one you rode last year and you said it was your favorite, it's not time to say no.

So I rode the Texas Giant.

image credit: "SixFlagsTexasGiant" by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)

The incline ticked up endlessly, and when I could stand it no longer, I shut my eyes tight.  The coming tip over the edge to plummet straight down was just too much to make with my eyes open.  Once that drop was over things didn't slow down, of course: the speed topped out at 65 miles an hour.  Finally, I managed to open my eyes, but with every muscle in my body clenched tight and focused on holding on for dear life.

I fought for presence of mind and told myself to relax, to breathe.  I unclenched my muscles, leaned into it ... and floated.  No, literally - I floated a few inches above the seat to meet the safety bar :o)  But instead of being tense, clenched, and scared, I realized that it was ... lovely.  Like flying.  As we twisted and turned and I kept my eyes open anticipating the turns, it was like flying.  Part of me was thrilled and exhilarated.  When we stopped, I wanted to ride it again, so I could keep my eyes open and lean into it for the whole ride.  Well, okay, everything but that first drop.  I wanted to learn the curves and twists and angles so I could fly again.

It strikes me that my whole life I've handled scary things like this - close the eyes tight, hang on for dear life, and just get through - just hang on until the end.  Then suddenly, the ride is over and frankly, everything is a little vague.

Maybe you've noticed, too, but life is kind of like a roller coaster.  Here comes a breath-taking climb - squeeze your eyes shut just before the perilous drop, and grip the bar with a death grip on the crazy turns.  You feel the twists and turns and maybe take a peek at the scenery streaking by - then suddenly it's done and you realize well really, that was kind of fun now that you got through it.

The lesson of the roller coaster is that you can ride with your eyes closed and your hands clenched on the safety bar, but it all goes by in a blur.  If you want to really experience the whole thrill of it, relax.  Relax, just lean in, and keep your eyes open.

We walked through the park toward the exit, everyone talking excitedly about their favorite ride and their favorite thrills.  But I was thinking about applying the roller coaster lesson to real life.  When the big scary things come along - change, for instance - what if instead of tensing up and closing my eyes, what if I lean into what I fear?  What if I just relax?  Could it be that I'll make it to the end and remember the thrill and the exhilaration all the more - and maybe carry the lessons to be learned a little closer to the heart?  Maybe leaning in and keeping my eyes open will make it not so scary.

I won't be riding any roller coasters again for a while, but meanwhile, I'll practice keeping my eyes open in real life.  Even when it's scary.

Shared joy is doubled joy ... let's double the joy for both of us - what are you most grateful for today? Click below to leave your comment. I'll go first :

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