I love roller coasters. The spring after my second divorce, my friend Elizabeth and I made the journey to Six Flags over St. Louis specifically to ride roller coasters. I wanted to do it for fun, but I really felt like doing something that took me to the edge like my divorce was doing emotionally. I process things very physically, and I wanted to “practice” riding the roller coasters because I was on a big one.
In the 1989 movie Parenthood, Grandma ingeniously compared life to a roller coaster in answer to Gil’s frustration with all the ups and downs of parenthood. Grandma had a point. Some people like the roller coaster and some don’t. To be honest, I used to be terrified by roller coasters. Not surprisingly, I was terrified of them during the time that I was also numbing out life by drinking and codependent behaviors. Maybe I really couldn’t stand the ups and downs that occur in life. I just wanted to be safe.
In looking back at 2012, it has been a roller coaster for me. In January, I was faced with a career dilemna, and I really wanted to hide my head in the sand. My company (Accredo) was being purchased by a St. Louis company, Express Scripts. I felt sure that I would lose my job in the transition. I did ignore it for awhile, but, eventually, I decided to go along for the ride and see what God had in store for me. The month before I went to Hawaii on a fabulous vacation, the FedEx job I have now just literally dropped into my lap. I applied with no fanfare, hoping to get serious about job hunting after vacation. But, the little drop on the coaster that I experienced in my angst ended in a quick upward climb to one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
The key to surviving the roller coaster ride is to realize that I am safe. God is my safety harness, and even if the ride gets rough or dangerous, I am safe. I may be afraid, I may even fall off track, but I am cared for and loved. And, the key to enjoying the ride, which is different than surviving it, is to go into it with my hands up and looking forward to what comes next. I know on a roller coaster that my stomach is going to drop. I know that I’m going to be jerked around. I know that climbs will be slow, clickety and sometimes scary, anticipating what might happen next. I also know that there’s an end to it. There’s a point where I’ll get off and be done.
The other key to enjoying the ride is realize that it’s a ride. To be sure, the things that happen to us in life are real. But, if you believe like I do, that this is a soul’s journey, a spiritual path, the things that happen to us are here to teach us and to help us to grow. If we lean into them and try to embrace the lessons that we learn from every difficulty and every joy, we will expend a lot less energy and enjoy it a lot more with a lot fewer unmet expectations.
This year, I’ve lost 5 people to death. Only two of them had any idea that they were on a path to end their ride here with us on earth. Three of them died unexpectedly with no illness or warning. Three of them celebrated the holidays with their families last year with no earthly idea that this would be their last go round. Two of them knew they were ill and were probably very present and aware that they needed to live and love life to the fullest. I hope that I will be more present and engaged with my family and friends this year. I’ve had a very real reminder that the ride doesn’t last forever. Sometimes we choose to get off; sometimes there is an unforeseen accident; other times it’s just time to disembark. I don’t know which of these choices I’ll have, or when my ride will be over. But, I really….really….REALLY want to enjoy the rest of my ride – hands in the air, screaming for fear and joy and anticipating the next turn. And, when it’s time to disembark, I know that Jerry, Francis, Aunt Rose, Aunt Shirley and Lorna will be among many others to meet me and to talk about that wild, wild ride.