This past week, our family headed out to an amusement park along with what felt like half the population of Orange County. We whizzed and whirled, span and splashed in hourly intervals as we otherwise whiled away our time in lines that snaked slowly around loudspeakers playing Frosty the Snowman on an unrelenting loop. And then came the question: who was going to go with the one daredevil child who wanted to be shot up into the air 250 feet and then dropped to the ground at 50 mph. The ride, if that is the word, is called ‘Supreme Scream’, which is actually a pretty accurate description of what happened in our case. “I’ll go with you”, I said, with unconscionable haste. And so they strapped us in, feet dangling, heart racing, face whitening. We waited, and waited, and shook more than a little. Then with a jolt, we began to rise.
I’m not a great fan of sheer drops. 20 feet off the diving board is enough to put me over the edge, so 250 feet took me out of my comfort zone by more than a little. Finally, we reached the top, sank just slightly, and waited. The waiting is of course only necessary inasmuch as it adds to the terror. I looked at my son; he was loving it. And then, down we shot. I screamed like a baby all the way down. Legs kicking, hands clinging on for dear life, and a mad glee emerging within. When we finally reached the bottom, I had aged at least three years and my stomach was somewhere near my sternum. I looked over at my son again and the look of unalloyed joy on his face said it all. “Let’s go again”, he announced immediately. And so we did. Not on the ‘Supreme Scream’ this time, but the 200 feet high 82 mph ‘Xcelerator’. And so it went.
My reasoning, such as it is, for this new found commitment to being strapped in and scared out of my wits is simple. It is a brief yet essential new year’s resolution: draw closer to my children. Parenting to me is the most challenging and joyful and mystifying thing that I know. As I stumbled off rollercoaster after rollercoaster this week, I saw in the joy our children found in sharing that experience with us an affirmation that what any child wants perhaps more than anything from their parents is their solidarity, for them to be alongside them.
This desire to be alongside others is a profound human need. Yet to draw near to others requires us to be willing to be seen as we really are. Solidarity does not spare us disappointment or pain as much as we might resolve to fill our lives with joy and fulfillment. And if we are to meet people as we are we have to be prepared to enter into a an authenticity most of us are not accustomed to. Yet in many ways, the vocation of the Christian life is one that calls us to live authentically. Rowan Williams speaks of Christian identity as that which we live into when all of our pretenses, the games we play with one another and with ourselves about who we are, are ended, and we accept the true name God alone calls us by.
We cannot know what sort of rollercoaster ride this year that lies before us will be. I cannot know what sort of parent I will manage to be through it. All we can know is that should we dare to live more deeply with one another, coming alongside one another as God comes alongside us in Christ, then we might have the opportunity to know a life and find richness in the joys and sorrows of others. I plan on riding more rollercoasters. You?