It was 98 degrees in an overcrowded amusement park, and I’d had the bad idea of tagging along for the seven-hour day. Now, under the best of circumstances, I’m not a big fan of heat–particularly the kind that takes about 1.27 seconds to steam every ounce of fluid from one’s body and just a little longer to reduce one’s energy level to that of a phlegmatic slug. But I went–I went because I hadn’t been to Europa Park in about twenty years, because some of my most beloved students were going and because…well…my heart briefly overruled my mind. I was about four minutes into the adventure (ie. “insanity-inducing sauna”…not that anyone noticed that I was farther gone than usual) when I decided that it had been a monumental mistake. The only upside to the mind-numbing downside was the company I got to keep.
The three morons (term of endearment) pictured below were my companions for the day, and though they tactfully avoided comment on the aging and wilting wet dishrag that followed them around from ride to endless ride, I’m pretty sure they were a tad nonplussed when I opted to rub the ice-cream I bought all over my face and neck rather than eating it as the salesperson clearly intended that I do. (Not really–but the thought did cross my mind!)
They forced me (FORCED ME!) onto a ride they all three deemed “mild.” Just a little bumping here and there–perfect for a dehydrated quadragenarian. And because the ride (pictured behind them) was completely concealed inside a silver dome–and because I was focused more on survival than on entertainment choices–I went along with it.
Bear (Josh Crooks) was my unlucky seat companion. He tried to reassure me by pointing out that I merely had a bar across my lap, not the full metal harness that the rougher rides might offer. And then we took off. My tonsils and vocal chords were projected from my throat at about the third turn as we plummeted and rocked and reeled in the DARK. I’m pretty sure I kept my language clean, but that was an act of God. It’s hard to focus on vocabulary while you’re suffering seventeen different kinds of whiplash.
BUT–I’m a firm believer in seeking the divine in the mundane, or, in this case, seeking anything refreshingly positive in the stiflingly UNpositive! The eternal lesson that emerged from the unbearable tribulation was beautifully illustrated by my friend Michelle. She’s a much more willing ride-rider than I am, and certainly a more adventurous one. And at the height of the day’s heat, while I was thinking happy thoughts of ice-filled bathtubs and nuclear-powered fans, she decided to go on the park’s latest addition: the Blue Fire roller coaster.
Its chief attributes? Corkscrews, loops, and a departure that takes the riders from 0 to 100 (kilometers per hour) in 2.5 seconds. That’s MAC 1. That’s fast. And it’s only the beginning! This is Michelle’s usual countenance:
And this is her a full half-hour after the ride–still not recovered, still waiting for her organs to return to their previous position, still staring at a fixed point in the hope that her eyeballs would stop orbiting.
But here’s the deal: she did recover, her organs did all go back where they belonged, and her eyes did eventually unglaze.
To a certain extent, we’re all on a roller coaster, particularly at BFA, with graduation just 6 days away (June 5th). For most of the seniors, these are frantic days of trying to pack up years of belongings, trying to spend time with precious people, trying to study for finals and trying to wrap their minds around the ceremony and the goodbyes that will cap their one-, two-, three-, or twelve-year experience in this place that has held both trial and joy.
For those of us on staff who have loved our departing seniors, the roller coaster is more emotional than organizational. Sure, I have grades to enter and course binders to fill and get-togethers to host and events to attend and an apartment to prepare for “boarders” who will use it while I’m gone this summer. But those are minimal compared to the roller coaster of emotions careening around inside me. Those of you who receive my prayer letters know that this is going to be an especially poignant graduation for me, because some of the seniors who are leaving have become so anchored in my life. There is grief over the goodbyes that have to be said, there is rejoicing over the new lives the students are beginning, there is a sort of sad curiosity about what my life will look like next year, without them here. The riot of thoughts and emotions is very real and very destabilizing, and I think that by the time the
ceremony is over and the students have scattered to the ends of the earth (literally), my heart might look a little like Michelle’s face after her Blue Fire ride.
But here’s the good news: organs do return to their rightful places and the world does stop spinning. We eventually do find our emotional footing again, we eventually do realize that there is a life (though a different life) after the roller coaster of separation and transition, and we eventually do gain the perspective that allows for the pain to be a whimsical reminder of how good it was while it lasted and a measure of the love and belonging we experienced for that season.
The days ahead will not be easy for many of BFA’s staff and students. And for some of you, that uneasiness, that core feeling of lostness and apprehension might last through the summer and into the beginning of the life you’re starting. But believe this MK whose life journey has held more than a few seemingly unsurvivable hurdles. When time has passed–when you’ve allowed your world to settle for a while and chosen to focus on those immovable points that anchor us to what is good and pure and lovely, the inner jumble, the emotional incoherence will ease. But it will take time–and more for some of you than for others. Give it all it needs. Allow the sadness as you pursue reasons to rejoice. Acknowledge the aloneness even as you pursue ways to begin to fill it again–though differently than before. And strive to find your value and meaning not in where you’ve been and what you’ve lost, but in Whose you are. I can think of no greater resource in a time of painful letting-gos and daunting jumping-ins.
And if in the future the world starts spinning again in a sort of “aftershock” to the Blue Fires in your life, go back to those fixed points, back to what doesn’t change, what doesn’t fail. He is near. He loves us. He comforts us. He strengthens us. He precedes and surrounds us. He is–and He knows. Because He’s felt it too.
There aren’t enough days left for the hugs and words and minutes I still long to spend with my beloved “morons.” And that means that the years we’ve had have been good. God-sized GOOD. There’s immeasurable wonderfulness in that.