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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rollercoaster as lifestyle choice

This is just a strange anomaly, surely, and probably means nothing. Because we all know there’s no plan or design or pattern or MEANING to the universe, don’t we? Or was Einstein right when he said “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous”?

On my way to the biennial ANZUUA conference in Melbourne last week, I stopped off to catch up with my youngest daughter, Rosie. She moved there earlier this year to prepare for study at RMIT. In the intervening months she’s managed to get plenty of paid work in the lively nightlife of the St. Kilda area, established a thriving social circle, landed a boyfriend (whom I tried hard to find fault with, but couldn’t), and moved into a funky share house across the road from St. Kilda beach.

This house is in the shadow of the Luna Park rollercoaster, so now Rosie’s grown-up lullabies involve the blood-curdling screams of strangers hurtling toward an eye-popping adrenaline rush. “You can get used to anything daddy”, she says…

Basically, living near this means 20,000 noisy neighbours
But here’s the thing: I thought I was the only person I knew who grew up in this uniquely odd fix--in the shadow of a rattling rollercoaster and summer nights of screaming mayhem. My family home in West Baltimore was in the shadow of the Gwynn Oak Park rollercoaster. So Rosie’s 'lifestyle choice' officially makes this unlikeliest of home-sweet-home settings a family tradition!

Our old house is just out of shot to the right
I’m told that anomalies like this run in families. Coincidence or epigenetics? Or a shared something deeper?

It’s tempting to say that Rosie’s whole life has been a rollercoaster ride, and that my life choices bought her a ticket on that ride. International move, family break-up, changes of address, new step-parents, and a major shift in Dad’s career and income level just when she most needed the ride to stop for a while. She fell in a heap for a couple years, and during that time, we orbited the gravitational pull of her collapsing self, the way even light is sucked towards a collapsing star. (This is how ‘black holes’ are formed.)

Down and down into herself she plunged, and we thought Rosie might never come back. But she (ahem)…rose again. And Rose in fact blooms again, rather like the roses that are blooming everywhere, now it’s Spring. It’s easy to forget that just a few weeks ago, these breath-taking sprays of fragrant roses were barren stems, fracturing and scoring the sky  like the rickety limbs of old wooden rollercoasters in the off-season.

(Query: Would a silent, un-ridden rollercoaster be better? Or worse? Why?)

The scarlet blush of roses that nestle among thorns.
The screams from a ride that’s both scary and fun.
Falling down to rise up again.

Such paradox is the sign of things that are deeply, enduringly, alive. Whatever God may be, paradox is how it reveals itself to us.

In the Amusement Park that is this world of time and space and movement and change, the rollercoaster contrasts nicely with the carousel. The spills and hills that thrill, versus the round and round, that never leaves the ground.

Sedate, but not stimulating...
(Query: which ride would YOU prefer? Why? Answer carefully!)

Maybe the rollercoaster is just the Macpherson way. But maybe also the rollercoaster can teach you (even at my age), that the ups-and-downs are never as life-threatening as your amygdala thinks they are. Comes a steep hill’s crest, and the screaming ramps up, and you feel your guts churning and falling away, and your amygdala begins to squirt out survival chemicals by the quart, and suddenly every cell in our bodies is yelling: “Fight or flee! Fight or flee!” And moments later you clatter to a stop, breathless but intact. And most are ready to go again.

There’ll be other ups and downs coming for her, I know, and some of them may be terrifying. But I thought I saw, as I took leave of her, the look that people have when the ride stops: a kind of startled happiness that says: “Oh wow, let’s do that again!”

"You can get used to anything, daddy." 

Du courage, mon petit.