Hands Up

I’ve mentioned here on the blog before that I don’t particularly care for roller coasters. I just don’t get the thrill of trying to scare the crap out of yourself. “Here, I’m going to push you down this hill at a speed fast enough to make you think you might die.” Why, yes, that sounds like loads of fun. Sign me up.

One of the pitfalls of having children, though, is that they often want to do things you do not. So, of course, when my family went to the Magicseven-dwarfs-600 Kingdom last week, what was the first thing my kids wanted to do? Ride the Dumbo ride? Spin on the tea cups? Cruise through pirate-infested waters? No, of course not. Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train… Basically, anything that would drop us from a great height at an even greater velocity.

My wife actually does enjoy an occasional roller coaster ride, but it seems age or the effects of giving birth five times is catching up to her, as her stomach tends to get a little queasy with too much motion these days. So guess who that left to ride all these things? Yep, that would be me. (Actually, my wife did do the mine train and Splash Mountain. I’m just looking to garner extra sympathy here, I guess.)

I’ve gotten into this kind of odd habit of setting mini-goals for myself in certain situations these days. For example, I might challenge myself to say one ad-libbed thing to the waiter or waitress if I go out to eat. It may not sound like much, but it gives me a little sense of accomplishment here and there. In the case of Disney World, I set two: Strike up a conversation with a stranger (which I never, ever do) and raise my hands on a roller coaster.

The stranger part actually happened pretty naturally. For some reason, Disney World just seems to be conducive to striking up random conversations, and I was fortunate enough to stumble upon one waiting in line for one of the rides. The raising of the hands? Well, that was a bit more difficult. See, when I feel that first drop coming on, I apply the death grip to whatever’s in front of me. I actually had a sore back after riding Space Mountain because my body tensed up so much. I am not the dad you see in pictures with hands in the air and a smile on his face.

thunder mountainI failed on Space Mountain, the mine train, and Splash Mountain. Thunder Mountain Railroad was my last shot. I looked up and saw the big mountain and thought, “Oh, no, this isn’t going to work at all.” For some reason, though, my confidence had been building throughout the day. I guess not dying on the other three rides was giving me a boost. So, in the first turn of Thunder Mountain Railroad, I did something I had never done before: I raised my hands on a roller coaster.

I would imagine there are a few of you saying right now thinking, “Pfft, that’s not even a real roller coaster. Go through some loops and then pat yourself on the back.” Well, baby steps, I say. So what if I got my hands up on a small roller coaster. That’s better than I’d ever done before. There’s something about hitting those mini-goals that goes a long way for me. So when the ride ended and I was still alive, I felt pretty darn good. A bit silly, but pretty good.

Now, am I going to go back one day and hop on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster? Um, probably not. And I won’t even get into how our trip to the resort pool went (Note: I can’t swim.). But, you know, you have to claim the small victories when you can, right? Maybe I’ll even get my hands up on two roller coasters next time.

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The Big Drop

I am a total wimp when it comes to amusement park rides. Spin me around in circles, and I’m fine; plunge me off some kind drop-off, and I’m praying to God for survival. That feeling of hurtling toward potential death has never done much for me, so I tend to avoid things like roller coasters and log flumes and stick closer to the tilt-a-whirl. Occasionally, though, one of my children will talk me into riding something I almost immediately regret getting on.

This happened a couple of years ago at Disney World. Against my better judgement, I joined my wife and kids on the Splash splash mountainMountain ride. This was fairly early in our day at the park, which meant there would be other attractions to take in from there. As anyone who has ever ridden a log flume before knows, there is that moment when you’re just about to go over the edge of the falls that feels like your stomach is going into your throat and you’re going to drop into nothingness. If I could just avoid that moment, I would be fine.

A funny thing happened after we rode that ride that day. That feeling I just described continued to happen to me, even on rides that were relatively benign compared to the first one. I still remember very clearly going over the small drop-off near the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and being so nervous I was white-knuckling the metal bar in front of my seat. Even the slightest dip had me on edge the rest of the day. It was unnerving, to say the least.

I am purely speculating here, but I would imagine I experienced a very small, minuscule dose of what it would be like to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Before you think me an idiot, I am in no way comparing a jumpy day at Disney World to having to deal with a post-war or mentally traumatic experience. As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that “PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm,” though, it did offer me a tiny, tiny glimpse into what an affliction of this kind might feel like.

MemorialDayFlagI thought on this Memorial Day of that day at Disney World because there are so many military veterans struggling with this very condition. I’ve read heartbreaking accounts from celebrities such as actor Patrick Stewart and singer Sammy Hagar about how their fathers behaved incredibly erratically and irrationally after wartime experiences. I know people with spouses who have been diagnosed with PTSD. I am only a spectator looking in, however. My heart goes out to the soldiers who can’t find peace today, but I feel utterly powerless to help them.

A search of the internet today brought up a few possibilities of PTSD occurrences in the Bible. The most common citing I found was the story of Noah. Long before Darren Aronofsky’s Noah film was released, I had heard people discuss the fact that there were more than likely people outside of the ark who were screaming for help, maybe even banging on the outside of the boat, as the floodwaters rose. Noah had to hear that, but he couldn’t let them in. Following God’s commands is not always an easy task, and Noah basically had to turn his back on his dying neighbors.

Noah’s story takes sort of a nasty turn once the flood is over, as he winds up drunk and naked inside his tent. It’s an odd epilogue to an account of the only righteous man on Earth at the time. King Saul did some pretty nutty stuff later on in life, too, and David’s Psalms are an open book on his fluctuating state of mind as well. Were any of them suffering from what we now call PTSD? We’ll never know for sure, as the type of psychological analysis we employ today is not found anywhere in the Bible. What is for certain, though, is that even good men can go off the rails following traumatic experiences.

I pray today not only for military veterans suffering from this affliction, but anyone who has dealt with it for any other reason as well. Your drop was a lot steeper than mine, and you have to deal with it every day. May we all pray to find ways to ease your burdens and comfort your souls.