When I was a teenager, about 14 I think, I went on my first roller coaster. It was with my father and brother at Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida. I really didn’t know what to expect. Back then, I wasn’t much a thrill seeker – but I was a seeker of the approval of my Dad and my brother.. so I think reluctantly, that’s what made me get on the ride. Truthfully, I hated every moment of it. It may have been obvious from the fact that I spent the entire time staring at the floor of the roller coaster car promising my inner conscience that I would never, and I mean never do that again. After getting off that ride and feeling as though I might truly lose my Busch Garden’s Hot-Dog stand lunch, I honestly meant to keep my promise.
When I walked away from the ride with my father, there was never a moment where he pulled me aside and said something like
“Son, what you just experienced? That roller coaster? That’s how life is.. Up, then down, then up, then down – and when you fnally think you have it all figured out? Yeah, that’s when it twists you around so you’re not sure which way is which and you’re so confused you feel like you could just lose your hypothetical Busch Gardens Hot-Dog stand lunch. Yeah, son – that’s what life is about.”
That moment never happened. Arguably, it could have been a great moment for a Hallmark movie, or something Ron Howard could put in that show “Parenthood” that my wife likes to watch – but let’s be honest for a moment – nobody talks like that. Instead, my Dad and my brother had a good laugh at my dizziness, a quick cheer and a slap on a back, and we moved on to the Gorilla cages. If I recall, after that I spent a good amount of time staring at the Gorillas.
Anyways, fast forward about 15 more years from that moment. Throughout the years, I’ve become more of a fan of roller coasters, willing to ride them when the opportunity presents itself. But I’ve also learned the lesson that roller coasters might be the best analogy anyone could give you for life. My boss makes a lot of house and car analogies. We give him a hard time for it, jokingly, even though most of the time his analogies do make some sort of sense. I think my legacy might be roller coaster anaologies, starting first with life:
Roller coasters are scary. If you stand next to a roller coaster and look up, you’ll be a little intimidated. They stand high, usually have plenty of loops and twirls, and are mostly loud. They’re built to thrill. Life’s also just as terrifying. There’s plenty of stuff to be scared of. Bills. Jobs. Friendships. Relationships. Illness. Kids. Parenting. Future.
Roller coasters don’t travel in a straight line. They go up and down, over and out, sideways and upside down, then right side up. Life? One minute, your healthy – then you’re at a Doctor’s office. One minute your kid’s a baby rolling around on an activity mat, and the next thing you know they’re 2, 3.5 and 7 – talking, walking, and asking questions you don’t have the answers to but lie about anyways. One minute your’e on the right track and cruising, making the promotions and banking the money, and then the next minute you’re not sure how you’re going to pay the rent. One minute, you’re deeply in love with someone, the next minute you’re fighting like you’ve been war enemies your whole life. Life’s complicated. Life’s not a straight line.
Roller coasters are fast. They’re designed to fly by, thrill, then get you off to get the next passengers on. By time you have a chance to not be scared or understand the intricacies of the ride, to map out your expectations for the next loop and corkscrew – it’s over. Life? Your kids grow up. You grow up. You go from in-shape to out of shape. From young and dumb to old and wise. You want back on the ride, to open your eyes this time and raise your hands and scream with happiness, rather than close your eyes and hope it’s over soon – but the rides over. Get off. Next on board.
But most of all friends? Dear readers of my inconsistent, rambling mess of a blog…The most important analogy? Roller coasters are fun.
So is life. Because even though we grow old, even though things break and life throws us the sudden dips, we know in the end – it’s worth it. That the ticket we were given to the theme park is so extra special, that in a fleeting moment, that day is done – one for the scrapbookers. One for the memory books. One, that if we could, we’d do all over again.
Remember my thoughts on my Father, and that he never gave me the life lesson over roller coasters you might see in some sappy movie? You wanna know what he really said?
He slapped me on the back, grin on his face, and said “Wasn’t that a blast, Grant?”
Something tells me when my roller coaster ride of life is done, my Father upstairs might have the same question.
Me? I’ll answer “You bet!.”