The fallacy of believing we are in control when, in fact, the steering wheel is just for show.
I loved going to the carnival when I was a kid. There was something so entrancing about the carnival—it was a whole new world full of wonder. There was popcorn and cotton candy, hotdogs and nachos, mini donuts and pork on a bun, rollkuchen and watermelon. There were haunted houses or houses of mirrors and booths filled with stuffed animals waiting to be taken home if only you could hit the target. Then there were rides: the Ferris Wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Pirate Ship, the Swings, the Carousel, the Orbiter, the Drop Zone, and roller coasters galore—SkyRider, Vortex, Top Gun, The Bat, and Wild Beast (just to name a few). I loved them all, some more than others, but I wanted to try each and every ride.
Up until I was fourteen, I had only ever been to Tinkertown and my town’s country fair where the rides were mostly designed for young children and not intended to scare them too much. However, one summer in my teens, my parents took my siblings and me to the Red River Ex and I was thrilled to see so many new rides I hadn’t ever been on. It was a whole new experience! I no longer wanted to go on the baby rides, such as the baby roller coaster, but I wanted to try the big rides—the ones the adults were lining up for.
As we roamed through the park looking for the rides we wanted to try, that’s when I saw it—the Skydiver. It was like a Ferris Wheel, but instead of sitting on an open bucket seat with a lap bar, this ride had enclosed pods that looked like the cockpit of an airplane. As the ride rotated upwards like a Ferris Wheel, the pods swivelled and spun around and around in circles, throwing its occupants into spinning chaos.
It was a ride that was so different from everything I had ever been on, a ride that actually went upside down, and I had to try it. I had always wanted to go skydiving and here was a ride I thought would be designed to simulate a skydiving experience. I asked my parents to let me go on it, but I needed a partner and nobody wanted to go with me, not even my best friend who had come along with us that day. I begged and pleaded for someone to come with me until finally my baby sister, Katie, volunteered. She was nine years old at the time and was too short to go on most of the rides at the Ex, but somehow when she stood under the height bar for the ride and just barely reached the line, the ride attendant shrugged and let her go on ahead anyway.
As we waited for our turn to get into a pod, I bounced excitedly up and down on my feet, anticipating what I thought would be a thrilling new experience that I wouldn’t be able to stop talking about. Finally, our turn came up and the ride attendant held the pod steady so Katie could climb in first and then me after her. I was soon dismayed when I saw that the only thing to hold us down on the bench was a metal lap bar. I had been expecting some kind of harness for each of us that could be adjusted based on our size. When the attendant brought down the bar until it pinned me firmly into place, he didn’t notice that the bar barely touched Katie’s legs.
Each pod was equipped with a steering wheel that allowed us to control the direction of our pod, but as the ride started moving, I soon discovered that the steering wheel was useless. Whenever we flipped upside down and I tried rotating the steering wheel to bring us right side up again, the steering wheel always overshot the direction I was trying to maintain and merely spun us into circles instead.
My excitement turned from joy to horror in an instant when I realized that Katie was starting to slip out from underneath the bar because it wasn’t tight enough on her lap. As we spun around and around, I put one arm over her in an attempt to hold her down while I tried to use my other hand to hold the steering wheel in an attempt to keep us right side up. Katie was screaming and I was crying. All I wanted was for the ride to stop so we could get off and I kept screaming at the attendant to stop the ride.
When the ride finally ended and we stumbled out of the pod with some bruises on our thighs from bumping around, I ran to my mom and hugged her, sobbing into her ear, “I thought we were going to die!” Then I exclaimed, “That was not like skydiving! It was chaos!” Needless to say, I didn’t want to try anymore rides that flipped upside down, at least not for a couple of years until I went to Canada’s Wonderland and went on a real roller coaster for the first time (and loved it!).
My experience riding the Skydiver brings to mind a time when I hit black ice while driving home from work. I was in my early twenties and driving from the city to the small town where I lived with my parents. We had gotten freezing rain that day, but in my arrogance (and stupidity), I didn’t adjust my speed accordingly and even attempted to pass the line of cars moving at a snail’s pace on the highway. However, the moment I started accelerating, the tires of my car hit a sheet of black ice and I began to skid out of control.
Time seemed to slow down as I realized in horror that my car was coasting in the opposite lane right into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. I jerked the wheel back to the right and then began coasting towards the car that had been behind me only seconds before. In a last ditch effort to avoid hitting the car beside me, I jerked the wheel back to the left towards the opposite side of the road in hopes of landing in the ditch, but the car began to spin like a top. I clenched the steering wheel in my fists, closed my eyes, and prayed, “Please, God, it’s okay if I die for my mistake, but please don’t let me hit anyone else.”
Then the car began to soar sideways and I felt the bumps as it started to coast over the rough terrain in the ditch. I held onto the steering wheel and waited for the car to start rolling, expecting to feel the hot cut of broken metal stabbing through my back, and then oblivion.
Suddenly, the car stopped moving.
The entire event only took seconds, but each and every detail permanently imprinted on my mind as I surrendered to what I thought would be my death.
When I opened my eyes, it took me a moment to reorient myself before I realized that I was sitting at the bottom of the ditch looking up at the road. The nose of the car was pointed perfectly straight ahead facing the incline of the road as if I could just drive right out.
I knew the car should have rolled from the angle I had entered the ditch, but it hadn’t. The car should have sustained damage, but only one tire had blown out. I should have been hurt, but I wasn’t. I stepped out of the car and looked up at the road in amazement. It was as if a hand had had neatly dropped me into place.
Life has a funny way of reminding me that I don’t (and can’t) control any of it. As much as I want to and try to control my life, I often find myself spinning out of control. The harder I try to grasp onto the steering wheel, the more I spin into chaos. Sometimes I get jostled around a little and emerge from the ride in terror with bumps and bruises. Other times, I spin right off the road and end up at the bottom of a snow-filled ditch.
And when I look up from the ditch, I think, “Wow! How did I end up here?”
It has taken me more than just two life experiences of losing control to finally acknowledge that the steering wheel I’ve been trying to turn in the direction I want to go has never actually been connected to the wheels. It’s just a toy glued into place to give me a false notion that I control anything in my life.
During the past two years of my life, I hit a metaphorical ditch again, an especially deep one this time, and it hasn’t been so easy for me to climb out. But this time I finally realized, just like I did when I hit the black ice all those years ago, that when life is spinning out of control, all I can do is close my eyes, let go, and trust that God has it all under control.
Life seems so much more enjoyable now that I don’t have to work so hard.
Naturally, I still find myself occasionally trying to grab a hold of the steering wheel again, but it’s starting to become easier to remember that the steering wheel is just there for show and that I’m simply along for the ride.
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.