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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: Take the Plunge!

When my son was younger, it was like pulling teeth to get him on rides at an amusement park. The fear of strapping into a roller coaster consumed him, and there were many tense moments. What made it the most tragic was that he would watch others ride the attraction, obsessed with the movement of the cars. His desire to be there was palpable, but he couldn’t overcome the anxiety of deciding that his desire was greater than his fear.

Eventually, we got him on something fairly tame, and I assured him that the next ride would be just like it (translation: I lied through my teeth). But something wonderful happened as a result: he got on the ride and, as we suspected, he loved it. Having had the faith to take the leap, the promise of the adrenaline rush now superseded any misgivings. Today, he is a roller coaster connoisseur, watching endless videos about coasters all over the world. He’d love to work around them someday. He sees intricacies in theme park management that escape the casual observer. When I tell his friends that there was a time that he wouldn’t go near a roller coaster, they don’t believe me; everyone now presumes that he shot out of the womb and into the line queue.

Having just graduated high school, we wanted to do something special for his summer birthday this year, and he wanted to, you guessed it, go to a coaster park – namely, Cedar Point in Sandusky. Go big or go home, I always say: at 18 coasters, it’s one of the top destinations on the planet for thrill rides, most of which held world records at one point in their existence. The inner ear mechanisms of my wife and I aren’t what they once were, so he took a friend with him as well. Now, that isn’t to say that the old folks couldn’t hang – we did as best as our constitutions would allow.

Funny thing happens when you become an adult – the fear of these rides that you had as a kid returns, perhaps because you have a keener awareness of your own mortality, and you’d prefer not to dance with death until it’s absolutely necessary. But pride also comes into play, and you want to still look heroic to your kids. It’s a delicate dance, but I seem to have mastered it over time. Have I mentioned that some of the coasters at Cedar Point are terrifying? Well, one of the most terrifying is one called Valravn, something called a dive coaster. Basically instead of a narrow train that runs along the track, this ride’s car is eight passengers wide and only three rows deep, making for a car that looks like it’s on the track sideways. After climbing a 200-foot hill, it dangles you precipitously over the edge, then drops you. Straight down, hence the dive. What makes matters worse is, this drop is on full display as you approach the ride, filling you with dread.

“You sure you want to ride this?” my son asked me.

“Just get me on it,” I replied. “Before I think too much about it.”

I got on the ride, and I confronted my fear. Was it terrifying? Yes. Was I proud that I faced the unknown? Also yes. It’s a great metaphor for life. How many times have we been held back from doing something, from setting that huge goal, because the thought of it was scary? We stand there, looking at the ride and thinking, “there’s no way I could do that.” And that’s what most of us do – we find a justification for not embarking on the great adventure. We may even say it in terms that would be perfectly reasonable to most of our peers. “I don’t have the time” or “I don’t have the talent” is equivalent to me looking at my son and saying, “I have a bad back and my inner ear goes nuts on these rides. I should probably sit this one out.” As I’ve gotten older, something else has resonated with me, and that is that you should do the thing that scares you. Take a chance on something great happening. Because regret is a trauma that you have to relive – getting on the ride is only traumatic for a few minutes. As I rode up that huge lift hill, my thought was simply, “the hardest part will be over in 15 seconds.” I didn’t try to deny the fear, but I was willing to acknowledge that it was there, and that it would have an ending. Life is too short not to take the calculated risk, to dare to be more than you are today. How many times are we mired in complacency, not because we’re in our comfort zone, but because it’s at least a familiar place. Maybe if we took more chances in life, our world wouldn’t be filled with so many trapped souls.

So, get on the ride. Know that the fear is temporary, but the exhilaration lasts a lifetime. Refuse to accept a mediocre life. And as always, be excellent to each other, and…

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