by Sandy Feit

It was late in the afternoon of July 15, 1990—our 17th wedding anniversary. And I remember those details only because of Rocky Point’s latest attraction, the Loop-Corkscrew.

Let me just say I’ve never been a fan of roller coasters. Nothing about them—neither speed, nor height, nor fright—appeals to me. Not to mention I’ve always had a proclivity for motion sickness. (In fact, a date once thought the Kiddieland merry-go-round would be romantic, and it put me out of commission for 24 hours.)

But despite my aversion to riding roller coasters, there was one reason I wished I wanted to: my big brother. Our four years’ age difference made everything Harris attempted seem like a bold adventure compared to my safe little activities. And whenever he conquered a coaster, the pride on his face made something in me want to tag along next time. But fear always got the last word.

… Until that hot July day many years later. Anniversary plans wouldn’t start till dark, so after lunch we took a ride by the shore and ended up at Rhode Island’s best-known amusement park. Since our 13-year-old apparently inherited my motion sickness gene and the younger ones hadn’t yet graduated to the daredevil attractions, we filled the afternoon with standard fare—junior turnpike, skyride, playground, and mini golf. Then, when the kids were good and tired, we headed to the car.

The parking lot was just beyond the Loop-Corkscrew, one of the newfangled roller coasters that added upside down to the usual thrills. I walked by, feeling pity for all the victims in line, but then noticed the people exiting the ride. None were crying or vomiting. None were kissing the ground. Everyone—from quite young to surprisingly old—was smiling and excited.

I slowed down and then stopped, realizing the significance of my next footstep. If I continued toward the car, this would be another garden-variety anniversary, which would soon sink into oblivion-of-the-typical (can you remember how you celebrated a birthday or anniversary even, say, three years ago?). However, if I looped toward the Loop …

The kids were several steps ahead when they noticed me lagging and asked what was wrong. Assuring them all was well, I said, “I have a crazy idea, and it might just make this an anniversary I’ll never forget.”

They agreed to wait while I watched the next few runs. In an attempt to deal with my long-standing fear, I analyzed facial expressions and screams during both the plunge and the upside-down twirl. Then, most importantly, I timed the ride: 105 seconds.

Just 105 seconds! And a good percentage of that was the chain lift—the initial climb before any real action began. Suddenly I pictured myself exiting the ride and could even imagine a slight smile tinged with excitement. Thinking, I can do anything for a minute and 45 seconds, I stepped into line, to the four dropped jaws of my family.

I still remember so much about those next few minutes: the yellow sundress I was wearing; some residual fear mixed with the pride Harris used to radiate; the actual point of no return (when the harness clicked) …

If you’re wondering whether I considered the ride fun, I’m not sure I’d use that word—at least not fun enough to ever crave another. I’m happy I did it, though, and a word I would use is “fascinating.” I expected to feel very upside down, but that part of the ride happened so fast it ended up being more of a visual experience than a physical sensation. And it really was remarkable to see the world revolve before the rest of me could register the rotation.

There’s another reason I’m glad I boarded that roller coaster—two, actually. First, because far from slipping into the category of nondescript events, our 17th anniversary became indelibly etched in my family’s collective memory. Commemoration is important—it’s a way of dragging a fluorescent highlighter across a relationship or occasion so its significance never fades. (See Ex. 12:14 NIV). Vacation mishaps manage to engrave themselves deeply in our shared repertoires, to be told and retold amid snorted laughter; so why not be intentional about preserving more noble moments? Maybe it’s a special birthday acknowledgment (“List a dozen ways our 12-year-old is special,” or “60 things we love about Grandma”—yes, we’ve done both). Or sharing waffles—Poppi’s favorite—on the anniversary of his death. Or simply riding a loop-de-loop roller coaster on a red-letter day. However you do it, commemorating milestones can give them weight and longevity.

The second reason is that conquering a fear—even a small, silly one—is neither small nor silly. For someone like me, who naturally gravitates toward the safe and the status quo, it can actually impact a whole futureful of choices. Now, 29 years later, I remember not only the roller coaster but also, specifically, my decision to ride it. For nearly 3 decades, just about every risk I’ve considered has been overlaid with a replay of that Rocky Point pause: “To the parking lot or the Corkscrew-Loop?” In other words, I ask myself, Do I want normal or novel? Monotonous or memorable? Everyday or exceptional?  

Sometimes the better option—or any challenge, for that matter—requires courage. Then it’s helpful to remember, “I can do anything for a minute and 45 seconds.Of course, not all trials are less than two minutes. But I’m discovering I can tolerate more than I thought. So now my mental pep talks might sound more like I can survive this for: 30 minutes (recording a podcast); an hour (root canal); one day or more (jury duty); 9 months (daughter’s difficult pregnancy);or even as long as it takes—with God’s help (caretaking and bereavement).

A hundred and five seconds is a reminder that many scary things are survivable. That a healthy risk probably won’t kill me—and daring something new may even make me glad I did.

Sandy Feit is the senior copy editor and a writer for In Touch Magazine. A native of New England, she now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, near her eight grandchildren (and some pretty deluxe amusement parks).

Cover photo by Stephen Hateley on Unsplash