My first ride on a roller coaster was on The Comet at Hershey Park. I think I was about 10. I remember my mother yelling worriedly at my uncle, who was riding with me, to hold on to me tightly. The experience was frightening, reckless, erratic, stomach churning and… phenomenal! It began a 35-year love affair that is as fresh now as it was then. Not so for many of my friends who had their fling with thrill-seeking rides and called it quits because of age or doubts about keeping down lunch.
So, here I am, a man of a certain age. I’ve gained more than a bit of weight and lost more than a bit of naiveté. I’ve had my first major surgery and enough health issues to remind me that I’m not as supple as I used to be. I have a wiser view of who I am. And who I am is looking better and better to me — better than the man I once thought I should be. Through it all, the experience of the roller coaster has always attracted me.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love adventurous rides about as much as I love church. After a good deal of contemplation over the subject, I’ve discovered that, more than just being an adrenaline rush of fun in an otherwise arduous world, I am attracted to them for two deeper reasons.
Unexpected encounter with community
I immediately wondered: while most of the people in line have come to conquer this record-setting beast, how many need to be conquered by it? After a look at my own circumstances, I admitted to her that my long journey was more than partially motivated by a need to let go and scream as well.
Being forced to queue with scores of others whom you don’t choose offers an opportunity to meet the world. I’m not much of a talker in the line because I’m so fascinated to see the diversity of people willing to corral in this small area, looking forward to the thrills ahead. And the mix is educational!
Some I instantly like, while others take more time to appreciate. Some say or do things that annoy while others are a sheer delight. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, personalities, passions, hopes, dreams, backgrounds and foregrounds. From them I learn patience and perspective. I gain the wisdom and fortitude to avail myself of this rich and robust family that God made. As we line up together, there’s a moment when I am intentionally aware of what I’ve learned, what I value, and where I need to grow.
Grace of the raging machine
Once, I drove nine hours from Washington, D.C., to Sandusky, Ohio, to visit Cedar Point Amusement Park and face the 300-foot drop of their newest ride, Millennium Force. I was in line for more than two hours behind a woman who was comparatively meditative in contrast to the festivities of the line. About halfway through our wait, we caught each other’s eye, did the civil pleasantries, and eventually began to talk.
She was fascinated to hear about my tenacity in driving such a distance for a roller coaster. And she fully understood. She said that she had been through a stressful time. Even with four siblings, she was the only one caring for her very sick mother, which was negatively affecting her marriage and family. Her job was becoming more stressful. Her church, which was her usual place for solace, just lost its pastor (her touchstone) to relocation. She lifted up her hands and said, “I just need to let go and scream!”
I immediately wondered: while most of the people in line have come to conquer this record-setting beast, how many need to be conquered by it? After a look at my own circumstances, I admitted to her that my long journey was more than partially motivated by a need to let go and scream as well. We eventually boarded in the same row and let the great machine have its way. We plummeted 300 feet, made banking turns that defied gravity, endured disorienting tunnels, and careened mightily upon tangled steel at more than 80 miles per hour. And, boy did we let go!
We screamed wildly and laughed till our stomachs cramped! It was exactly what we needed to exercise that bit of joy and hope that was being strangled by fear, anxiety and anger. We alighted — the car vibrating with adrenaline — energized with the strength to carry on. In a brief, but intense, three minutes, the raging machine graced us with an opportunity to physically and emotionally rid ourselves of the things that had begun to fester within. And though our circumstances hadn’t changed as we walked down the exit ramp toward the photo booth, by the look on our captured faces and the renewed joy we felt inside, we had.