On this ride called Life, we find ourselves in the first car, or the second, or the third. Someone straps us in, maybe gives us a quick smack on the backside because there’s that first human contact–the doctor’s slap, right? But it’s less of a slap and more of a hearty wake up, kid, it’s about to get exciting. We hang onto the bar and glide from darkness into sunlight. We feel the pull of the track on the steady uphill and there at the top we see something magnificent–the whole world laid out before us. But it’s just a flash, a glimpse, before we swoop downwards, feeling the rush of wind and the force of momentum. Then we’re chugging uphill again before the bottom drops out with a whoosh. And on it goes, until eventually we release our grip on the bar and lift our arms and holler with joy. After a lifetime of ups and downs and leaning into our seatmate as we’re whipped around the curves, we end the ride through a long dark tunnel, slowing down, feeling the exhilaration of having lived every moment to its minutest. And there on the other side, waiting: a loved one, beaming at us, waving, cheering us on, welcoming us home.
That’s life in a nutshell. An amusement park ride to enjoy.
If you’re amused by roller coasters.
I rode one roller coaster in my life. Once. The track was old and wooden and rickety. On this ride I was strapped in, but the strap was loose. I seized the bar, feeling the mounting dread with every clackety-clack on the uphill, knowing what was coming. And sure enough the car peaked and then plunged and I dug my heels in to operate the brake, hollering stop the ride!–squeezing my eyes shut, too afraid to scream. And it was a relief, that dark tunnel. I was shaking, wrung out, feeling…what? A twinge of regret that I hadn’t enjoyed the ride more. It wasn’t so bad from that final perspective. After all, I’d survived. But no one was waiting. It was just me and my seatmate who had been laughing the whole time, secretly wishing that I had dared to open my eyes and enjoy the scenery.
That was the trajectory of my life in a nutshell.
But at some point I asked myself: why not enjoy the ride? Why not open my eyes and have a blast? Loosen your grip on the bar, Holcomb, trust that the strap will hold you. Lean into the curves, accept the ups and downs, find something good to focus on instead of always expecting danger.
So I did.
Not all at once, but gradually.
And one day I realized that the rush I was feeling was excitement, not anxiety. Exhilaration, not panic.
It was all a matter of interpretation.