Now that the summer tourist season is in full force here in Hershey, Pennsylvania, we can hear all day and into the night the faint roar of the rides, the whistle of the steam train and the music of the stadium concerts from HersheyPark, the chocolate-themed amusement park, within walking distance of Michael’s house. We love those summer sounds. They evoke moments of joy, days of fun, memories of laughter and play. Whenever we can, we visit the park, if only for an hour or two – to smell the vendors’ foods, to get some great exercise walking up and down it’s many hills, and to be exhilarated by its dozens of rides and the joy of riding on them.
Our favorite rides are the roller coasters, especially those that spin us in corkscrews or take us straight up in the air and plunge us straight down or hurl us through many loops. There are moments when we cannot tell up from down, when our hearts are in our throats, when our breath is literally taken away. Those moments are a thrill for us, those moments when all control is gone and we just simply enjoy the ride.
When we speak with people living with difficult life challenges, as we do every day, roller coaster rides are mentioned a lot as a metaphor, but not connected to joy, to laughter, to thrills, to fun. There is no evoking of special memories and carefree days, of exhilaration and excited bliss. Instead, the roller coasters of emotion are described as dreaded and distressing. In countless ways. The descent into the valleys is described as devastating, the way back up seemingly endless, the whole ride often devastating. There is no clamor to get back on the ride, no joy in being propelled upside down over and over again. It’s not fun. There are “rides” we all scream to get off.
We wish for all of you, wherever you are on this roller coaster ride – with disease, with relationships, with yourself, with your job, with life – that the feel of the ride can begin to change. Whatever is discouraging, whatever is disappointing, whatever is devastating, whatever is debilitating, whatever is disturbing, whatever is distressing and whatever is dreaded, we hope can change. One of our guiding principles, perhaps the one that gives us the most encouragement and strength to keep holding onto hope, is the belief that life is meant to be good. Meant to be infused with joy. Meant to be a ride – even with its challenges, its ups and downs – that brings us love, that brings us valuable lessons that enable us to grow, and that ultimately enables us to be more loving, more understanding and more gracious. When the ride upends us the way that life’s challenges so often do it’s hard to see that it is good – or ever can be. But somehow, through our connections and in our bonds shared with one another, we hope – ceaselessly, fervently – that at some point along the way, the ride begins to bring each of you moments of joy and laughter and blessing again.