I was just looking at what is probably one of my favorite photos from recent years: it’s a picture taken at Disney World while my wife, son and I were on the Tower of Terror ride. In the photo, captured by the ride’s camera during the lifts and drops, my son and I are both looking at my wife who has a look of abject terror on her face. I distinctly remember the sounds she made throughout the ride: “shreek! Giggle, giggle, giggle. Shreek! Giggle, giggle, giggle. Shreek! Giggle, giggle, giggle.” It was probably one of the most entertaining parts of the ride, and seeing the photo afterward… I HAD to buy it. It’s framed and hanging in our house. Every time I see it I enjoy that memory. This morning, as I looked at it, sipping my coffee, it dawned on me that life is like an amusement park ride. Here’s why…
Where life and the ride differ is that we don’t choose life. We choose to get on amusement park rides but life is chosen for us; given to us. That is where the difference ends.
For most amusement park rides you have to stand in a line and wait. You’re eager to get to “the good part” – riding the ride. In the meantime, you have to stand in line and wait. Hopefully you have good company to enjoy the wait with. If not, if you’re like me, you’ll strike up conversation with anyone who looks remotely polite and friendly near you in line. Isn’t life like that? When we’re children we always want what’s coming next. We know it’s going to be SO fun and all of this waiting to be a grown up is just a waste of time, right? Sure, there are times where we have fun and enjoy our childhood but it’s not because we choose to have fun and enjoy it. It’s just a side-effect of being a child and not being aware of life’s circumstances. And then we get to the ride…
When we first climb into the seat we feel that small twinge of uncertainty. Sure, this ride looks fun and we’re not backing out (as if we have a choice) but… wow, there are a lot of spins, turns, ups, downs… and it goes so fast! Are we sure we want to do this? Interestingly, just like life, not making a choice IS making a choice. If you don’t consciously choose to NOT buckle in that seat, then you are choosing to ride the ride. Sometimes people do this just because they stood in line. They weren’t really sure if this was the ride they wanted to ride but they didn’t want to say so; they didn’t want to admit fear; they didn’t want to admit that they saw nothing enjoyable about it; they didn’t want to say, “I’d rather ride this other ride over here.” So there they are… strapping in.
Then the attendant comes along to make sure everyone is buckled in and secured properly. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a safety attendant in your life? Well there is… actually, are. There are a bunch of them if we just take the time to pay attention. They are our parents, siblings (sometimes), teachers, coaches, clergy and more. They are all the people trying to give us advice about what life holds and how to make the most / best out of the situation we’re in – or about to be in.
Then the ride starts. Even as it’s just launching you might wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into, but you’re still looking forward to it with so much nervous excitement. The ride can slowly climb a hill or launch you like a jet on a catapult off a carrier. Whether it’s a slow climb or a fast start, there WILL come a time when that ride starts to accelerate even more, turn, twist, spin and more. There might be a hard stop along the way, or quick deceleration followed by more slow buildup and then LAUNCH again!
On that ride, all around you, there are people almost completely obvious to YOUR experience and how you’re reacting to the ride. Sure, there might be a select few people that you’re riding with who pay attention and see your reactions. They listen to the sounds you make, watch the look on your face when they can and pick on you if your nervousness shows through. If they know you’re scared of heights or speed, they’ll needle you about what’s to come… just for the pure fun of it. And if you know that’s why they’re doing it, you take it and give it back if you can, good naturedly and simply adding to the enjoyment of the ride.
The thing is, every person on that ride has a different experience. Sure, it’s the same ride, lasts the same amount of time, goes through all the same motions, etc. But every rider has a different ride. Some of them hurt their ears as their head bounces off the padded security structure holding them in. Some feel a lot of pressure on their abdomen as their body is moved inside that same structure. Some bang a knee. Some almost pass out while others “shreek! Giggle, giggle, giggle,” throughout. Some laugh and joke and just thoroughly enjoy the ride.
Then there’s that one guy – the one at the beginning who wasn’t really sure if this was the ride he wanted to be on, but he got on anyway. He made sure he was buckled in. He prepared and double checked that he was ready. Then the ride launched and he wasn’t sure if he was going to enjoy it at all, BUT… he committed himself to enjoying it as best he could. He looked for the unexpected bits of fun and excitement along the way and took great delight from the sounds of enjoyment others were making around him. He tries to look ahead at what’s coming next but he is fully aware that no matter what it is, he can’t avoid it; he’s in this ride until the end and he is simply looking forward to what comes next no matter what it is!
Around the park there are six or ten other rides. Some of them are faster, smoother, rougher, older, newer… There are all different characteristics on the variety of rides available. They all have a few things in common: There’s a wait to get on them. They are supposed to be fun, but people give mixed reviews. They are never exactly the same even for people riding right next to each other. It’s interesting to note that the fast one has people standing in line who aren’t big fans of speed; but they’re going to ride it anyway. The rough one has people standing in line who prefer smooth rides, but they’re going to ride it anyway. The one that inverts five times and falls a hundred feet has people standing line who don’t like being upside down or freefalling at all, but they’re going to ride it anyway. All those people are looking for new experiences and enjoyment outside their comfort zone. As a result of those experiences they will learn something new about themselves and, along the way, add to their life’s experience.
Read back through that and you’ll see: there are a LOT of similarities between life and amusement park rides. But it’s smart not to focus on the ride. We learn more focusing on and learning from the people. Each of the riders took on faith that the ride wouldn’t fail; that it would function as expected and not malfunction or fail along the way. Each of the riders has faith in the engineers who designed the ride, the builders who put it together and the operators who double check everything before giving a thumbs up and pushing the button to launch it. The riders of every ride display faith, enthusiasm, nervousness, excitement and pleasure – or learning something different.
The ride is just a tool that offers us opportunities for experiences no matter how fun or not they prove to be. No matter how much excitement you experience, fear that flows through you, laughing, crying, snotting… whatever. If you puke when you get off the ride, the ride was still just the tool that you chose to use to evoke your emotional responses and, perhaps, learn a lesson about how you react and what you enjoy.
And none of us chooses when the ride ends. It will. It will be disappointing even if we didn’t have a blast. We spent all that time waiting to get on the ride and it’s over way too fast. Can we get in line and ride it again? That’s a question for your faith to answer. For me… I just try to enjoy every moment of the ride to the maximum level I can manage. I take great delight in seeing my friends and family enjoy the ride. I try to do what I can to help build up their excitement and enthusiasm before it begins and tend to pick on them throughout if I can.
And now I go back to that picture of my wife shrieking and giggling as she thoroughly enjoyed that one particular amusement ride. My son and I were both quite delighted to see (and hear) how much she was enjoying it. Her enjoyment increased ours… and in the amusement park ride of life, that’s always a good thing.