Day 221: Ride the Roller-coaster!

I would say that I consider myself a fan of certain catch-phrases, aphorisms, or words of wisdom. There’s a reason some of these sayings get used to the point of practically sounding meaningless. For example, there are many common expressions which try to explain or shed light on the often bitter-sweet nature of life. We’ve all heard them: “Take the good with the bad,” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” “No pain, no gain.”

Another one: “Life’s a roller-coaster.”

These are sayings may seem like meaningless cliches. But are they? Perhaps they have something to teach us, something that justifies their over-use.

Let’s take the roller-coaster analogy. There’s a great movie from the 1980s called “Parenthood.” In this movie, Steve Martin plays a loving yet strung-out father and husband who constantly struggles with problems going on in his family and home life. There’s a wonderful scene where he is at his kid’s school play. That play, a rendition of “Snow White,” starts out with the usual innocent charm you’d expect from a school play involving young children, with doting parents video-recording their adorable but clueless kids. However, things quickly go awry when Dopey, played by Steve Martin’s daughter, gets ganged up on by the other dwarfs, and Steve Martin’s son (who’s about three years old) leaves his seat in the audience and crawls on stage to defend his sister. At that point, all hell breaks loose, to the point that the entire set literally falls down and the kids abandon any pretense of actually even acting.

At first, you watch Steve Martin cringe as he witnesses yet another example of the insanity of his life. He can’t seem to control anything! The more he tries, the more life seems to remind him how powerless he is. The screen starts rotating side-to-side, and suddenly you hear the sounds of being on a roller-coaster.

Now, a quick back story: in the previous scene, Steve Martin’s ostensibly-senile grandmother talks about how as a child she loved riding the roller coaster, because it was so fun, so thrilling, and so terrifying that she got so much out of it. She preferred it over the safer, tamer merry-go-round the other kids wanted to ride.

Recognition dawns for us–the movie viewers–at the same moment it appears on Martin’s face. We see what he’s seeing: that this is how life is supposed to be. It is this roller-coaster! He finally gets that it’s this crazy, unpredictable, uncontrollable ride. And what a wonderful ride! Finally, what before was stressing him out now delights him. He gives his wife, to the right of him, a loving, knowing look. Perhaps for the first time in the movie, he sees that all along the entire process was absolutely perfect.

The movie brings to life the worn-out phrase, and adds a positive spin: Life is a roller-coaster. It may not all be fun and easy. It can be terrifying. It can get uncomfortable. You may get nauseous. You may want to get off at times.

Yet all that bad stuff makes the good stuff even more thrilling and wonderful. To live is to take the complete package, the ups and the downs.

It’s all of it. All the good, and all the bad, all the lemons and all the lemonade, and all the pain and all the gain. Life is a beautiful myriad of contrasting experiences. If you go into it with this attitude of what an adventure is in store, you are going to have more fun, because you recognize the perfection of it.

Like Steve Martin’s character in the movie, the sooner we make friends with roller-coaster-like nature of life, the happier we become! We stop feeling like we have to control everything. We stop feeling so easily disappointed or upset when things don’t go the way we want them. We start going with the flow more, and we allow the ride to be what it is. In fact, it already is what it is anyway, but we actually start enjoying the ride instead of judging and resisting it!

We start gaining a sense of inner calm, and we start becoming powerful, not because we have learned to control everything that occurs, but because we choose to flow with it, instead of fighting it.

Life may be a roller-coaster. And what a good thing, too. Because, we like roller-coasters, don’t we?

Cosmic spiritual warriors that we are!

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