Early in my career as a human, I would secretly celebrate being under the roller coaster height limit. I used to be afraid of them.
“I’d love to go, but see Goofy’s arm? I’m under that. I’ll wait.”
Wait, I did.
The violent, furious sounds of a roller coaster declaring its sharp turns was enough for me to step back and realize that my desire to be thrilled was outweighed by the fear of something going terribly wrong. I just knew I’d be the one stuck looking down at a tiny city on the descending side of the coaster’s steepest peak. For me, it was thrilling enough to wait at the exit and greet my family as they walked down the ramp.
“Wow, that was so awesome, Justin, you should have ridden!”
Yes, I should have. It was difficult to see everyone so excited when the ride was over. As happy as I was that they had a good time, I was just as unhappy I let fear win. “If I could have just had their courage”, I thought, “I would be happier.” Instead of experiencing a full amount of happiness, I settled for a partial amount of happy with a supplement of relief. I was relieved the ride was over because it meant I would no longer have to stare fear in the eye and be exposed to how I really felt when other people asked where I wanted to sit. Instead of being honest about my fears, I tried to find every excuse I could to cover them up.
Recently, my journey through life has been a figurative roller coaster. Instead of the option to wait at the exit, my body has forced me into the front cart. The same fears I had towards roller coasters revealed themselves as an adult living with leukemia. Instead of rising to the top of the tallest peak and looking down on a city, I sat in a doctor’s office and looked down at the floor as I was told things weren’t working as well as we all hoped they would. I was stuck on the descending side of the steepest peak, after all. I wanted to wait at the exit, but I didn’t have a choice. I reluctantly put the seat belt on, lowered the metal bar across my lap and waved at my family and friends.
“I’ll be back,” I whispered, with the faintest of confidence.
Relief is a self-made antidote we create to avoid the circumstances we don’t enjoy or think we cannot push beyond. We would much rather avoid fear by substituting it for something else. Ultimately, that doesn’t mean our fears have been overcome, it simply provides us the temporary antidote to avoid facing them. Many people are okay with that reality until the dreadful day that their “worst fears come true”. When that happens, the problem isn’t the expedient validity of fear, it’s the permanent absence of relief. Suddenly faced with the reality of what always was, and furthermore, what will always be, you can no longer hide. Exposure requires you to face your fears head-on. When you do, you’re able to walk through the door of adversity without the superficiality of avoidance as an option. You evolve.
It wasn’t until I was in the front cart of a roller coaster that I realized I had the best view of the things around me. When you face your fears, you can see every turn, drop, and loop way before everyone else can. You understand things from a new perspective and your life emanates a new spirit of gratitude, thankfulness and compassion, which all supplant the fear you once protected while waiting at the exit. Identify your roller coaster and sit in the seat. It’s not as scary as you think. The metal bar across your lap will save you, and you’ll be forever changed in the end.