I can’t speak for anyone else, but thinking about life this week has led me to conclude that it’s like a decades-long roller coaster ride. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with roller coasters. It took me a long time to conquer my fear and first ride one, but that same night I rode the thing a dozen times, enjoying it more every time. I’ve ridden many others since then, enough to feel I can make the comparison between life and roller-coaster rides.
The thing about coasters is that they are always going up and then going down, with an occasional high-speed curve and maybe a total 360° loop in there somewhere. If I’m watching someone riding on a coaster on TV, I notice I always catch my breath when they reach the top of the track and then face the downward part. That’s how I remember riding them myself. I also notice that the higher the uphill part goes (and the slower it goes), the downhill is much faster, steeper, scarier, and often longer. That’s what makes them fun, if a bit terrifying at times.
When I say life is something like one of these amusement park rides, I mean that when I look back on my life, I see times of great happiness and success (the uphill side) and great sorrow, fear, anxiety, and depression as life seems to plunge out of control before another small hill pops up.
Now that we are in Lent, we expect that life is not supposed to be a thrilling ride. We’re supposed to feel reflection, remorse, and repentance, but occasional flashes of joy and pleasure are built in. Babies are born, and that becomes a time of joy, Lent or not. Grief also comes, and Lent seems much darker than usual. This year, we are still coping with COVID and its variants. We also see pictures of innocent Ukrainians fleeing their homeland in search of safety. They are carrying their most precious things – their children, their pets, perhaps an icon or a family heirloom, and, I’m sure, many look back as Lot’s wife did, looking for one last time at the wreckage of the cities and towns in which they lived and worked.
It breaks our hearts to see such pictures and the refugees’ suffering. I wonder, though, did we have such empathy with the Afghani people under similar circumstances? They too left with what they could carry, including many of the same things the Ukrainians did but were countries outside the area lining up to offer them refuge? Does this particular dip in the roller coaster ride of time have a religious component built into it?
Something else I saw this week online was a comparison of US citizens sitting in their expensive cars, watching Facebook and Twitter on their $1000+ telephones, and taking their refuge in their costly homes in “nice” neighborhoods, complaining about still having to wear masks at times and the skyrocketing cost of gasoline. Compare that to the Ukrainians walking as far and as fast as possible for safety as their country is bombed and shelled around them. Who has more reason to complain? Besides the pictures of destruction, there are also pictures of people staying and even returning to their homeland to defend it from invaders. I had tears in my eyes when I saw a picture of an older woman, on her belly in the grass, pointing a rifle and giving every appearance of planning to stay there as long as necessary. God bless her and all the others who stand and fight, as well as those who flee to save the lives of their families.
We’re only in the first full week of Lent, but I’m already wondering when the downward rush will end and how it will all turn out. I know I’m not the only one praying for peace and safety and for a sign that the bottom of the hill will not be a total crash. Other things are going on in the world we need to keep in our awareness, and people around us who have needs we can supply or bring to the attention of those who can help if we are unable.
Spring is coming, so the roller coaster will go up a bit with the warmer weather and the blooming trees and flowers. Like the cars on the coaster, Lent will come to an end before starting up again, this time with the joyousness of Easter. There will still be giant hills and steep slopes in our lives, but we will have hopefully grown through the process.
May we all find this Lent to be a blessing, even if in disguise.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.
Image: Infusion roller coaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, UK. Author: BlackpoolJ91, 2020. Found at Wikimedia Commons.