"A day without laughter is a day wasted." - Charlie Chaplin
PS – There’s a bonus “little lesson” at the end of this post.
After finishing a productive day at a client in Brooklyn, New York, I needed to decompress. I took off my tie, hung the suitcoat in the back seat, and pointed the car due south. To the tip of the island – to Coney Island.
In the late 19th century, an amusement park opened in this seaside resort. There were rides, food stands and sideshows. The Coney Island boardwalk and beaches transformed the peninsula. Every weekend, throngs of people rode the trains from New York City to escape the confines of the tenements.
This was Thursday, not the weekend, so I didn’t expect any crowds. In fact, that was essential to my plan. I was going to ride the world’s oldest wooden roller coaster – The Cyclone.
There were few cars in the parking lot. There was no line at the ticket booth. I walked up the ramp to see no one ahead of me at the gate. I was going to be first in line. That meant one thing – I was going to get the front seat! Outstanding!
Just before the gate opened, I heard a clamor behind me. A family was racing up the ramp. Leading the charge was a little girl, dragging her father by the hand. He was more than three times her size, but she was clearly in charge.
We walked quickly out to the train, and I knew what I had to do. I pointed to the front seat, and asked her, “Do you want it?”
She looked at me. Then at the seat. Then at her father. Back to the seat. Back to her father. Back to me. She vigorously shook her head “no” and got into the seat directly behind it. The front seat was mine.
On the Cyclone, the first hill is the steepest. As the chain pulls the train forward, you hear the iconic “click” as you inch uphill. As you approach the crest, the tracks seem to disappear, and there is only blue sky in front of you. You raise your hands to maximize the thrill as gravity takes over. And then….
From behind me comes the loudest scream I’ve ever heard. The little girl was maximizing the ride in her own way. The scream never stopped – on the downhills, she screamed; on the left turns, she screamed; and on the right turns, she screamed. It was only as we reached the station did her scream turn into giggles.
Her scream expressed so many emotions at once – fear, joy, and love. She announced to the world that she was there, that she was alive, that she was enjoying every moment of her experience. No worries or embarrassment or shame, pure authenticity.
As we grow older, we’re taught to hide our emotions, to be cautious about expressing ourselves. We mask our feelings and even chide others for “public displays of affection”. We present one face to the world – that may or may not be who we are.
We should be considerate of others and refrain from selfish behavior, and we can do that while still sharing our exuberance and joy. We can choose to face the world with enthusiasm and love, starting from a positive point of view. We can retain the hard-fought wisdom we’ve learned through the years, while maintaining a child’s sense of wonder.
And we can choose to sit wherever we want on the roller coaster. I may even give up the front seat.
Note: I shared this story while speaking to a group in Columbus, Ohio. My friend Karen sent me her story the next day.
I was that girl!
By Karen Holliday
I grew up in a small town about 10 minutes from Sandusky, Ohio. When asked by a stranger where that is, I respond, “Cedar Point?” That usually brings a nod of the head. After all, who hasn’t heard of the Roller Coaster Capital of America?
I was number four of four children, the only girl and the shortest in my family. My mom had a love for Roller coasters that I only understood when I became an adult. In short, if her dying moments were on her favorite hill, she’d consider it a life well lived.
We visited Cedar Point as many times as we could afford in the summer, it was a real treat! As a little girl, I couldn’t wait to be tall enough to ride. My brothers had far surpassed me, and I wanted so much to ride the biggest roller coaster ever made! Every summer I would wear the tallest shoes and extra socks and try to figure out a way that I could just squeak by. I would plead with the operator, “Please, mister, please! Just this once!”
One summer, I was tall enough! Oh, the joy I felt at that moment. I still remember my first roller coaster, the Blue Streak. My mom loved the back seat the most, she said, “some like the front seat because you can see everything, but I like the back because it whips you around and it’s more fun.”
She let me choose the front seat, so I could see everything.
By the time we hit the first hill (Hands up!), I was just bursting with giggles and screaming with excitement. My mom was laughing too! I also remember the fear on my mom’s face when we went over the first hill and I almost flew out of my seat! I think she leaned on top of me the rest of the way! We had so much fun.
To this day, I love rollercoasters, I still giggle and scream.
My mom didn’t get her wish, but she had a life well lived.
Life is really like a rollercoaster, so many twists and turns. Throw your hands up and enjoy the ride!