August 22, 2013

Falling Up

Soldiers sacrifice their lives for others, often without hesitation, because they believe they are heroes. It's what they're trained to do, and it's what our society and culture expect of them.  I've come to believe that people will live and die by their belief in their individual self-identity, no matter what label they apply to themselves. I came to this conclusion while strapped tight into a chair, ready to shoot several stories high into the air on an amusement park ride.

We've taken our children to amusement parks since they were very young. Somehow, this tradition became our "thing." Today, although my family is mostly grown, we still visit parks to ride thrill rides like fast and winding roller coasters. That's how I ended up on Six Flag's Acrophobia one warm afternoon last summer. 
Magnetic forces pulled me up with slow, excruciating speed, and I watched the world shrink as my fear grew deeper and my grip grew tighter. The ride finally jerked to a stop somewhere near Mars, and let me dangle like a hapless wind charm in the sky. Squeezing my eyes shut to block it all out, I realized I was trapped on this ride because I thought I had to live up to my thrill ride loving reputation. As if a label that defined me, I'd felt obligated to wear the tee shirt. Suddenly everything I'd ever done that I didn't want to do flashed before my eyes: my college of choice, being a young mother, living with in-laws, moving from city to city, volunteering at Cub Scout camp, attending bawdy publishing conferences, even haircuts and music. Good heavens! Did I have any backbone at all? 

Erma Bombeck once listed things she would have done if she had her life to live over. I've always
liked that she said she would have burned more candles and worn her dressy clothes. Now I understand why she didn't. She was trying to live up to her identity as the perfect homemaker. As human beings, we seem to need an identity to measure our self-worth. Too often, we let foolish expectations determine who and what we will be. Like the mother who skips dessert because there's not enough, we sacrifice what we really want, think, or feel, if it isn't what's expected of us.

Even though I knew Acrophobia would pull me up into the sky and drop me, I hopped on because my family believed I loved amusement parks. They expected me to. I didn't want to let them down. And so in that moment I fell with terror toward what I was sure was imminent death, I promised myself I would no longer make decisions based on what the world or my family demanded. I would be honest about my fears and desires. What others think doesn't matter, because nobody else can take this ride with me. 

Obviously, I survived, but I'm no hero. I don't know if I'd have the courage to throw myself into danger to save another life. But this I've learned, I will eat dessert, even if it's the small piece, and thrill rides… they're out.


Jillian said...

Nice post. To thine own self be true is quite good advice, isn't it?

Danielle Thorne said...

Thanks. Yes, some of us learn these things a little late.

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