The ride of your life
The Life Less Traveled
March 09, 2011You ever have one of those defining moments in your life? You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones where you're facing some huge, insurmountable challenge, and you have to decide, am I going to go for it and take down Goliath? Or am I going to run away like a scared little girl?
I used to have an unreasonable fear of heights, and every year, when my family would take our annual trip to King's Island, I would have to decide if this was going to be the year I would conquer it. And every year, I would come home utterly defeated.
But then I got a free pass through my middle school years. I suspect we stayed home those years because my parents knew I would just sissy out when it came to the big rides. What's the point in spending all of that money and driving to Cincinnati, just to watch your son eat cotton candy?
So, throughout junior high I got to lay low and pretend my acrophobia didn't exist. Then, in the summer of 1987, the summer I turned 15, King's Island introduced its first new roller coaster in years, the Vortex.
From the moment I saw the TV commercial that featured a monstrous, robotic hand twisting metal coaster track in its grip, I knew my time had arrived. The Vortex would be the altar where I would sacrifice my fear of heights.
I can still remember the feeling of inevitability as I sprang from my bed in the pre-dawn hours that fateful June morning. It was a showdown at the OK Corral, and I was determined that I would not flinch. I can also remember as we approached the park, seeing the spire of the Eiffel Tower replica and soon afterward, the peak of the Vortex looming at its side.
That's it, I thought. That's the place where fear goes to die.
We parked, paid our admission and ran straight to the back of the park. I wanted to be one of the first people in line. Like all amusement park lines, this one crawled by at a maddeningly slow pace, allowing me to watch the Vortex twist, turn and dive dozens of times.
The lift hill was the worst. Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. Eerie silence. Then, a free fall into nothingness.
All I have to do is get in the car and push the bar down, I told myself. Once that happens, I've reached the point of no return. I was totally psyched. This was it.
We had about five people in front of us when they shut down the ride.
"We regret to inform you this ride will be temporarily closed due to mechanical failure." Mechanical failure? Mechanical failure? No one told me these things could have mechanical failure. What exactly did that mean? A piece of the track fell off? A shoulder restraint opened and they lost a kid? What? What!?!
We didn't get more details, just instructions to exit the line and return when the Vortex had reopened. Yeah, right. I'll be sure and do that.
I went off and rode some other coasters. Not the Beast, of course. I hadn't even planned on touching that one. My family had hyped it up so much in an effort to permanently paralyze me with fear. Didn't they realize I had issues here?
So, near the end of the day, even though I had conquered some smaller rides, like the Racers and the King Cobra, I had yet to face what had now become the symbol of my abject terror, the Vortex. At this point, this ride had taken on mythic proportions in my mind.
The coaster had reopened by mid-morning, and all day I kept putting off facing it again, until finally, the day grew late, and I knew it was now or never. My Uncle Brian and I jumped back in line, all the while the words "mechanical failure" echoing in my mind.
Don't be silly, I thought. I'm sure it was just a minor hiccup. They close down these rides because they're so hyper-conscious of guest safety. Nothing to worry about, right?
Of course, it was the first summer the ride had opened. If it was going to go down in a fiery crash of molten steel, now would be the time.
It didn't matter. I stuck with it through the line, and now we were next. The defining moment had arrived. It was go time.
When the gate opened, I stepped into the car of the Vortex, Brian close behind, then promptly stepped right out the other side. Brian looked at me like, "Where do you think you're going?" The answer was anywhere I wanted. See you later, sucker, I thought, and ran from the platform, forcing him to ride alone.
It was not my finest hour.
Have you ever faced a moment like that, when you have an opportunity to take a risk, to confront a fear, to redefine yourself and your personal limits? Did you jump in and pull down the lap bar or step on through like I did and regret it the rest of your life?
The Bible is full of people getting themselves into situations where they have to depend on God. That's how faith grows. We look back now and call people like Noah, Moses and David heroes of faith. At the time, they weren't so much heroes, just people who were willing to join God for the ride.
I don't know what risky business God might be calling you out on today. Maybe it's starting a conversation with that homeless guy you see every day on your way to lunch. Maybe it's confessing something you need to get off your chest. Maybe it's an act of generosity that drains your wallet. Maybe it's quitting the job you know is killing your soul.
Whatever it might be, doing the right thing can be far scarier than your first coaster ride. But I can guarantee that even with all the ups and downs, the ride itself is worth the risk. Oh, by the way, I felt like such a loser that day at King's Island, I went and jumped on the Beast right before the park closed, neutralizing my fear of heights with one simple choice.
I've never looked back and, if you go for it with God, neither will you.
Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more from Byerly, visit www.jasonbyerly.blogspot.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.