Sometimes I like to think of life as an amusement ride.
We all go through highs and lows, slow periods and fast, as we cycle through the ride of life. And just as an amusement ride might seem slow at times, in our lives we hit ruts and slow patches. But then things on our ride speed up and we scream and struggle to hang on through the rush. However, it is important to always remember that there is one aspect of life that is very different from an amusement ride.
On the amusement ride of life, we cycle through ups and down, slow times and fast. Things are rarely flat or just high or low in life and this variety gives our lives variety and contrast and allows us to appreciate the times when we are flying so fast and high that we can do no more than hang on for dear life as the surge hits us in the gut. We can even be thankful for the times when we coast through the flats or slowly and arduously climb to our next peak if we consider how important every moment, slow and fast, is in our lives.
It might seem like there are a limited number of amusement rides and sometimes it feels like we are on the same ride with the people with whom we seem in sync and close to. But in the end, when we think about it, we come to realize that we are all on our own ride. We perceive the world in different ways and react uniquely to the things that we encounter along the way. Even when we are at the same point on the amusement ride, we often cast our eyes in different directions the people right next to us stare at. And when we look at the same things, we all see differently. Of course, when we are looking at each other, we are each seeing something different.
There are people with whom we share the cab of our ride and they are in our lives for the duration. There are people who we pass by at speed and their interactions with us are limited, but at times these brief encounters affect us deeply and switch the track on which we ride and the direction. Many times we don’t pass these people again, but their brief proximity to us is never forgotten.
There is one aspect of an amusement ride that is dramatically different than the ride of life. With an amusement ride we know the ride duration and when the ride is over, we can buy a new ticket and have another go.
With life, we only get one ride. On your one ride, you can look at whatever scenery you like, you can change tracks as many times as you wish, you can choose to ride with whoever you want. But at the end of your ride, and none of us knows when that will be, there isn’t another. It is what makes our lives so very precious. It is what makes each of us precious to everyone else.
We have to remember this aspect of our ride, our mortality. It allows us to appreciate the twists and turns on our ride and it forces us to pay attention to every single moment and be grateful for the bitter and the sweet.
Back in medieval times, people regularly contemplated their mortality and even visited cemeteries and ossuaries to immerse themselves in acknowledgment of this end that starts the very moment we are born. There was nothing morbid about this practice. It was meant to keep people focused on the things that mattered in their lives. Today we have an uneasy and, often, pathologic relationship with death. We distance ourselves from this universal experience.
I hope that on your one ride, you pay attention to what matters most to you and take the time to stay aware of the finality of life and your uniqueness in the Universe. Each of us has a singular and lasting contribution to make to the tapestry of life. It is what is left after we are gone. Perhaps intangible, but the most important thing that outlasts us.