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Finding compassion on a coaster

Scott Boyle | Wednesday, September 11, 2013

For as long as I can remember, I have been terrified of roller coasters.  Although my house in Cincinnati is 20 minutes from a popular amusement park named Kings Island, I can count on one hand the amount of times I have been there.  

Somehow, I always found excuses to forgo these thrill-seeking adventures, not because I didn’t want to hang out with my friends and family, but because my fear and uncertainty surrounding the coasters’ height and drops was too great.  

Flash forward to high school.  You can imagine my horror when, on a choir trip to Atlanta, I discovered that we would be spending an entire day at a mecca of amusement parks: Six Flags Over Georgia.

As we drove up to the park, the shrills of excitement that went up on the bus instead sent shivers down my spine.  Although it was difficult to see into the park, the sights and sounds of one particular attraction were unmistakably clear.  Screams could be heard in the distance as riders plunged 170 feet over bright orange and blue tracks on a roller coaster named Goliath.  
Although nothing about this “attraction” was attractive to me, it quickly became clear that Goliath was the first roller coaster everyone wanted to ride.

Of course, I had no desire to go on that roller coaster.  In fact, I did not really want to be on any roller coaster.  Of all the things that we could have done on that day, being in the vicinity of that roller coaster was one of the least attractive options.  

To this day, I still can’t believe what happened next.  To make a long story short, I found myself getting in line with my friends.  

“We’re not letting you sit this one out!” they said.  “It really won’t be that bad!”

And slowly but surely, my friends worked their magic over me.  Even in the moment, I could not help but feel like I was a spectator watching a different “Scott” slowly inch forward towards the beginning of the queue.  

But my friends’ “soothing” words did nothing to calm the mixture of emotions and nerves erupting within me.  Violent “word debris” began to spout from my mouth, sparing no man, woman or child who was in my immediate vicinity.  And my friends loved every minute of it.

But as we neared the ride’s launching gate, I had nothing more.  My nerves were blocking any sort of word production.  I felt my arms and legs tense up as my heart began to beat very quickly.  I turned to my best friend Josh and my friend Megan and said, “I’m going to need to hold your hands through this one.”  Thankfully, they didn’t bat an eye.  I slid into the seats next to them and held their hands like my life depended on it.  

If you’ve ever been on a big roller coaster then you know the seconds that pass inching up that first major hill can be some of the most agonizing.  This was no exception.  As we tipped over that peak, I thought my heart was going to leap out of my chest.  

Although my terror did not wane throughout the entire ride, I made it through, thanks to Josh and Megan’s “helping hands.”  My hands never left theirs for the entire ride.

Yesterday, we commemorated the 12th anniversary of 9/11.  And over the past weeks, our attention has turned especially to Syria and the deaths of 1,400 innocent civilians in chemical attacks.  Terror and fear, albeit in a different form than mine, still persist in our midst.  And despite our best efforts, it can be hard to keep going.  It can be hard to see the “helping hands” in a world that seems so suffocated by darkness.

But Andre Trocme gives us a helpful reminder: “Jesus did not have a pessimistic view of the world. He did not propose asceticism or withdrawal, or demand an ‘ethic of absolutes’ impossible to practice in real life. Rather, he described behavior governed by the love of God and demonstrated its possibility in the world.”

What if we were to open our lives and hearts to be governed by the love of God?  Could we look past our fear towards our neighbor to see the person who just longs for love, understanding and acceptance?  Dorothy Day said, “Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.”  If we opened our hands to each other’s hands, and opened our hearts towards each other’s hearts, together we could help cast out fear and sow seeds of love in our world.  God will take care of the rest.

Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at sboyle2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.