The Ride of Life

“Click. Click. Click. Click.” as you pull down the overhead restraint.

“Pull on the yellow tabs,” says the operator.

Your palms start to sweat a little…maybe a lot.

Then your car lurches forward, leaving the platform. And in the blink of an eye, the ability to stop what’s about to happen is gone.

This exciting, or, in some cases, terrifying, roller-coaster moment is a lot like life because once it starts, the ending is pre-determined and unavoidable.

Roller coasters come back to the station and you can hop back in line and ride again. Life is the only ride you get and it always ends in death. (My apologies to anyone who knows someone who has died while on an actual roller coaster because apparently that is a thing.)

Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez

When it comes to life, being born means you will eventually die. This is one of life’s only two certainties. (The other one is taxes, which will not be the subject of any of my essays…ever!)

Note that in between birth and death is LIFE and all of its UNcertainties: the exhilarating twists, turns, and stomach-churning loop-de-loops. But just like riding a roller coaster, with our eyes open even partially, we will see that it is in the naturally occurring uncertainties of the space between our birth and our death where all the “good stuff” actually happens: the growth, the wisdom, the love, the laughter…and, I hope, unforgettably fun days at amusement parks riding actual roller coasters.

Even the unpleasant, uncomfortable, unfair, unbelievably painful shit that happens can actually be viewed (eventually?) as part of the good stuff so long as they present opportunities to grow and earn the good stuff above: the wisdom, the love, etc.

But what if we do this “ride of life” with a death grip on the restraint, eyes tightly closed, and screaming in fear the entire time? Seems to me, and my half-century on earth would support this, that approach would diminish not just the ability to acquire the good stuff, but also the quality of that which we do manage to acquire.

Eyes wide open.

Hands in the air.

Screams, and maybe tears, of laughter and delight.

Courtesy of Gabriel Valdez

One of the most exhilarating, and sometimes terrifying, sections of the roller coaster of life is romantic relationships. Talk about ups and downs!

And just like with life, the end result of falling in love is also unavoidable, guaranteed hurt at some level. Hear me out: you will either fall out of love someday, maybe even spectacularly, or death (remember him?) will end your relationship. And unless you die at the exact same time in the loving arms of your sweetheart, you will hurt, even grieve, and perhaps feel the most exquisite pain imaginable.

Yep. The glorious second your heart skips a beat and your palms get sweaty in the presence of your new crush you are guaranteed some level of eventual pain and heartache. Happy thoughts, I know…sorry!

But does this promise of pain mean you don’t get on the crazy coaster of companionship? Can you skip this section of life’s roller coaster? I don’t know. I guess you can do whatever you want. But consider this: it is ALL painful. Just life by itself. And if you are reading this then you are already in the thick of the pain, the sadness, the hardness, and yeah, the uncertainty of life, and maybe of a relationship.

So, let’s just stipulate to this: in relationships, uncertainty is certain. Pain is certain. But if those two things are certain then so is some joy, some pleasure, and some happy. Maybe lots of it! And so long as you have more pleasure than pain, more happy than sad, more growth than stagnation with the human of your dreams, then reach over, squeeze the hand of your ride partner, and enjoy the ride. There will be ups and downs, pain, heartache, blah blah blah, but if that person makes the roller coaster of life so much more interesting, tolerable, enjoyable, even fun then consider yourself lucky and hold on for this amazing section of the track.

Nothing is guaranteed in love, except for pain, so if your love works then I hope this section of track lasts forever for you and your partner. But if for some reason, your car breaks down on the track, you stop having fun, and the bad stuff outweighs the good with no hope for repair or rescue, then ride alone for a while and, perhaps sooner than later you will muster the courage to be open to a new partner, a new ride, a new love.

Look, the most important thing we can do as humans, as individuals, is to live our best life; to connect with and execute our innate and unique potential. Do what makes YOU happy. Love YOU. Be true to who YOU are.

It is only then that you will be able to make someone else happy. It has to happen in that order. You figure this out and you will make the most of all of the ride you have left and help at least one other person do the same. Nice work!

Don’t wait. Don’t overthink it. Don’t be scared.

You know that feeling at the end of the roller coaster ride when the car abruptly slows then crawls into the station? And you think, “Well, that was awesome!” This is also how the end of life sneaks up on us. And you just wish you had even one more turn, one more drop, and your stomach drops when you realize that you don’t. That, for you, the ride is over.

When this feeling hits you, at the end of your life or of a relationship, I hope you can find gratitude and perspective. I hope you find peace knowing that you rode the hell out of that ride with:

Eyes wide open.

Hands in the air.

Screams, and maybe tears, of laughter and delight.

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