My favorite scene from the movie “Parenthood” is when the middle-aged father is complaining about all the unexpected changes in his life, and the grandmother comes in and starts talking about how much she liked riding the roller coaster when she was young. Obviously comparing the roller coaster with her life, she says, “Up, down! Up, down! Oh, what a ride!” She goes on to marvel at how one ride could make her feel so terrified and yet so excited at the same time, and says that although some of her friends liked the merry-go-round, she preferred the roller coaster because “you get more out of it.”
Personally, I’ve never liked roller coasters. Even when I was a child and thought a trip to the local theme park was the best possible way to spend a day, I never wanted to ride the roller coaster. When I became too old for the “kiddie” rides, I still stuck to the tamer rides like the Scrambler and the Tilt-a-Whirl. (Although I did learn the hard way to never ride the tilt-a-whirl after eating raw cookie dough. I’ll spare you the details.) Maybe it’s my fear of heights, but I just didn’t see the attraction of buckling myself in a little car and being taken way up in the air, only to be dropped like a rock back down to earth seconds later and then zooming back up again. Throw in the twists, turns and loops of the average roller coaster, and as far as I was concerned, you had a ride that held zero attraction.
Still, that scene from the movie has stuck with me. And the older I get, the more I think that the grandmother was right: life really is a continuing series of ups and downs. That’s something I try to remember when I’m going through a tough time, and feeling a bit hopeless or overwhelmed. I remind myself that this is just a “down” cycle in my life, and that it will be followed, sooner or later, by the inevitable “up” cycle. I suppose it’s just another way of saying that “this, too, shall pass,” but the roller coast analogy does help me cope.
Now when I’m enjoying an “up” cycle, I know better than to get too complacent, because there’s certain to be another down cycle coming along. I know that sounds awfully cynical, but it’s really not. If I start expecting things to always go my way, I’m going to be completely blindsided when they don’t. I’ve learned to simply enjoy the good times when they come, without making the mistake of thinking, “Wow, my life is going to be this great from now on!” Because, of course, it’s not.
The way I see it, the “downs” in my life help me appreciate the “ups,” and knowing that another “up” cycle is coming helps me tolerate the “downs.” It’s all part of the roller coaster ride that is life. And just like the grandmother in the movie, I hope that someday I’ll look back on the ups and downs of my own life and be able to say, “Oh, what a ride it was!”