Life has its ups and downs, that's why the rollercoaster is such a good metaphor. You get in line. You're forced to wait (sometimes for hours) for an experience that lasts for maybe a whole minute if you're lucky. The anticipation builds, a feeling of both fear and excitement. The closer you get to the platform the more you start to question your judgement. Do I really want to do this? You get into your seat, you buckle up...and you're off.
My first really memorable rollercoaster experience happened in May of 1984 during my eighth grade class trip. We took a school bus to Six Flags Over Mid-America in St. Louis, Missouri. Our adventure extended for two days and two nights. Our class was small and our fundraising abilities, extraordinary. We made so much money over the school year we even got $100 spending money a day while we were there.
I've always been, cautious. It's just a general part of my nature. So I was selective about which rides I would experience. On top of my cautious nature, I have a crippling fear of heights. A gift from my mother along with a fear of spiders.
The most famous ride of the park was the Screamin' Eagle. A large wooden roller coaster that the Guinness Book of World Records listed as the largest coaster at 110 feet (34 m) high and as the fastest coaster at 62 mph (100 km/h). Every one of my classmates took a turn or several on this majestic, historical coaster. I was going to take a pass, but two of my friends convinced me that I had to give it a chance, so I got in line with them.
When I got up to the platform everyone had someone to sit with, except for me. They got onto the train in front of me and when it was my turn, I was on my own. I got into the very back car. I have to admit I wasn't paying attention, because when they told us to push our bar into place mine didn't securely fasten and there were no seatbelts. At the time, I weighed in at about 105 lbs. soaking wet. When the car started up the hill, I started to panic. I couldn't get my voice, I couldn't scream. I was tragically silenced during a time when my voice was desperately needed.
Once we got to the top of the hill I managed to get out two words "Help Me." The couple in front of me noticed right away that my bar was not secure. The male was large and strong and managed to hold himself into his car with his legs, while he and his girlfriend held me tight so I didn't fly out of the cart to my death.
Fast forward to a few years into the future when a good friend of mine invited me to join her and the high school German club for an outing at Six Flags. I agreed to go as long as I wasn't asked to ride the Screamin' Eagle and after telling her what had happened to me, she agreed we didn't have to ride it.
When we arrived at the park, Mrs. Pyrtle, the German Club sponsor and high school German teacher gave us three rules to abide for a successful trip. The first rule was to use the buddy system. We were to be with another student at all times. The second rule was to return to the school bus at promptly 6 p.m. and the third rule was to simply not die.
The day was absolutely beautiful. We could not have asked for better weather and the park was not packed because it was during a school day. We rode rides over and over again. There was lots of laughter and happiness. It was getting close to time to leave the park and my friend asked me if I would ride the Screamin' Eagle. I was overwhelmed with dread and disappointed that my friend had asked. I had a very hard time saying no to people, but this time said "no" immediately.
My friend went into a long speech about why I should give the ride another chance. No one had ever died on it before. People had been riding it all day and no one was even mildly injured. I remember her saying "You can do this. Conquer your fears. You'll be glad you did." So I got in line with her. She promised she would ride the ride with me. She wasn't going to abandon me to ride it alone and we didn't have to sit in the very back or the very front.
We positioned ourselves carefully so we could sit in the very middle car. She climbed in first and I sat next to her. We made absolutely sure that our bar fastened. My heart was racing and I was sweating profusely even though it wasn't very hot outside. She made me laugh and reminded me that everything was going to be okay.
When we started up the hill the car was jerking. It was making unusual noises and there seemed to be a faint smell of something burning. It took more than 30 minutes for us to make it to the top of the hill. When we did get to the top we sat there for another 30 minutes or so, but it felt like an eternity. I turned to my friend and said "I think we're going to die." In her very calm and soothing manner she turned to me and said "Mrs. Pyrtle is going to be terribly disappointed."
A helicopter and men in harnesses came up the side of the coaster and removed us two at a time, slowly down the side rail that was maybe a foot across. I remember gripping the railing so tight that when we got to the bottom of the hill my hands were blue from the paint. The train had derailed, but we survived.
I don't think I'll ever get on that coaster again, but I think there's a lesson in this. Even if we think our lives have derailed, we can survive it. Be strong. Be courageous. Take chances but know when it's time to say no.
I woke up at 3:33 this morning, it's pretty typical these days. I have a lot on my mind that my subconscious wants me to work out. I've learned a lot over the last 50 years. I've learned you carry your past with you everywhere you go. It doesn't matter where you are, it's there. The mistakes you've made, the little wins. They're permanently etched in your soul. You'll hear it in your breathing. You'll see it in the expression on your face. You'll feel it in the dull ache of your heart and the tears that come when you least expect it. There's no hiding it.
You'll lose people you love to death, to differences of opinion, to marriages, divorces, separations, to anxiety and to misunderstandings. And every single one of them will hurt as if a part of you has died.
I've learned that your past does define you, but so do the actions you take to move forward. I've learned that every single one of us wants to give up sometimes. Every person you meet carries their past, too. I've learned that not everyone recognizes their unhealed wounds, and I've learned what it feels like to be the mirror for those wounds. I've learned that I see myself in everyone I meet and that if I don't like what I see, I turn away.
I've learned that someone can be head over heels in love with you one moment and resent you the next. I've learned that when an illusion is dissolved, another illusion is easier to pursue than to create something that's real. I've learned that facing your demons isn't something everyone can or wants to do.
I've learned that the strongest people I know have had some of the most painful life lessons; and some of the most loving have felt the least amount of love.
I've learned that there's no such thing as having no regrets. If you're living your life, you're going to make mistakes. I've learned that being present is the only way to live no matter where you are. Sometimes it hurts, but feeling is the only way you can be present in the moment. And feeling is how you know you're alive.
I've learned it hurts when you let go, but it hurts more to keep holding on. I've learned that kindness is the single most important thing in life. And I've learned that being grateful and loving, even when you're feeling like things aren't going your way can really help get you through the day.
I've learned that there are beautiful people all over the world who understand me. I've learned that the more you're grateful for them, the more of them that appear in your life.
I've learned that life isn't easy, but it's beautiful even in its struggles. I've learned that there's nothing more beautiful than having a life to live. For this, I am grateful.
Over the course of our lives, we develop personas. As a child we learn about who we are by playing, I was particularly fond of superheroes and Barbie. I look back now and I can see the parts of me that are reflected in those characters. I also liked to pretend I was a famous actress, singer, and dancer. It brought me incredible joy. It seems to me that these are parts of me I've been neglecting while playing my other, more responsible roles.
When we start to mature physically, we start to explore the more adult types of roles that we will play. I took on the role of employee for the first time shortly after turning 16. I learned what it meant to have a job and the responsibilities that came along with it.
I was still also playing the role of student, daughter, sister, and friend. I had other roles I was playing as well. I've always been a caretaker feeling incredible responsibility for the well-being of my friends and family, including the family pets. My mother instilled a sense of social responsibility in me early on in my life, volunteering at the fire department, police department, and nursing homes.
Somewhere along our journey we become fragmented, playing many different roles. People are often surprised to learn that I'm highly intuitive, took ninjitsu, lived in Japan, or grew up on a farm. The role that they've assigned to me in their story suddenly takes a plot twist.
I've adapted my "story" in the past to make others feel more comfortable. I've separated parts of me into digestible portions so others don't choke, but my authentic self wants to be a complete expression.
I think this personal fragmentation is a reflection of what happens when we incarnate here. We perpetuate the illusion of separation individually as well as the whole.. Many of us are starting to feel this incredible shift that is happening, where we are coming back together within so we can all feel more whole.
Don't be afraid to be all of you. That's what we're all meant to do. It's a process. Lean into it. Open your hearts and minds to all that you are. You are a perfect expression of all that is.
Photo credit: Joy Reactor