Life's journey is a lot like a roller coaster
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The joke goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Life is big. That can be intimidating, no matter how bold your personality. The best way to get through it is one step at a time.
Like eating that elephant, however, not all of those steps are going to be equal. Some may require more effort. Some may require more time. Some may require more sacrifice or investment. Some may be achieved so easily it will seem orchestrated by fate.
There is an often-memorized poem called "Mother to Son" that talks about life not being a crystal stair. There are places that are worn and torn. That's life. It's not all smooth surfaces and grassy lanes. However you look at it, life is going to hand you some stuff that you need to be prepared to face.
That is why riding roller coasters is such an iconic rite of passage. Roller coasters as metaphors for life are a well-used image. Yet, it is also apt. Yes, we all experience highs and lows during our life's journey. More specifically, however, life is full of surprises and moments that will catch you off guard and scare the confetti out of you.
While visiting with my friend and her children, my son got to ride his first roller coaster. I have a picture of his face from the first time he saw the ride he was about to experience. He looks horrified. It was an hour wait in line. The entire time, his friend, who has ridden the coaster before, alternates between trying to make him feel better and trying to freak him out.
This roller coaster is supposed to be the longest in the country. It has several severe drops and a couple of places where you go into several full barrel rolls. I told him I was going to scream a lot so he wouldn't feel embarrassed to scream. Truth be told, I couldn't even hear if he screamed over my screams. It is intense. It was thrilling.
After the ride, I asked him how he felt about his first roller coaster ride. He said at first he was nervous but after it was over, he felt excited. He was grinning from ear to ear and had that look about him like a person gets when they have survived something terrifying.
It had been a while since I had gone on a roller coaster myself. I forgot how dangerous they feel. Mentally, you know that the ride is safe and that it is expertly designed to make you feel like you are doing something reckless and dangerous but in actuality you are on track. Even though you are following a safe track from beginning to end, a good roller coaster makes you feel like at any moment you could go flying out into the air.
It has been a week since that thrilling experience and my son is still telling the story of his rides on three different roller coasters. When you go through something that makes you feel like your life was in danger and you survived, it gives you something that you can hold onto in your core self to call upon when you need it.
Recalling such moments are helpful for the rest of your life. You can tap back into them to shore yourself up when you are feeling shaky. They are moments that remind you that you are capapble of doing more, surviving worse, enjoying more, forgiving worse. A roller coaster, in particular, is a helpful experience, not just because it mirrors life's peaks and valleys, but because it also mimics life's shifts and turns and dips and loops and rolls and indeterminent pauses and moments of anticipation and recovery.
In short, life is unexpected. However predicatable you may think your life is we cannot know what each day has in store for us. We want to tackle the big dreams of our life but to do so also means running into moments that make your afraid, frustrated or confused. It means taking some small careful steps and some grand leaps. It means knowing you can accomplish anything as long as you are willing to take life as it comes.
- Mariel Blake writes a weekly column for The Daily News