Stare down your fears

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” – Flannery O’Connor 

Daryl Geffken

A wise person once shared with me that looking in the mirror is a good place to start when hoping for change. Why do we see a world  comprised of an “us” and a “them?” I know at least one reason is because I have sequestered myself to my own portion of life. It’s irrational, I know, but there is a fear in me to truly seek God’s desire and power because I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know the cost.

As I have poured over letters written to me over the past 20 years and journals I have written, many themes have surfaced. At first I was not sure if there was anything that emerged as a common thread. But over time I have come to this: I care for the outsider. A conversation once held with God crystallizes this point. I clearly understood God to be telling me, “Never forget what it was like before you met me.” This is not so I may manipulate others to some sort of faith that I hold, but in order that I can appreciate their value and perspective. I have worked with middle school students. I have had multiple forays into the lives of the urban poor. I have traveled to Japan, Europe and Africa and have been deeply affected by the great disparity that exists in the world. I am to be a messenger for the disenfranchised. But a prophet must have a call. And if I discover this call, will I have the courage to follow it? I care about the poor, but enough to join them in life? Will I be able to live more sacrificially in order to live with integrity as I ask people to level out the chasm of disparity we face? An unlikely source of encouragement in this process of tackling disparity comes from Disneyland.

My son, Tyler, is 2 years old and 35 inches tall. In our household this is called “Matterhorn height” as it’s the vertical requirement for riding the world’s first tubular steel roller coaster: Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. With a trip to the happiest place on earth planned, Tyler approached this lofty milestone of stature. Excitement grew with each measurement and finally the mark on the wall confirmed he would be eligible to ride. Our first day in the park was reason to celebrate. We started easily with Peter Pan, the carousel and Dumbo, building some anticipation each time we caught a glimpse of the mountain. Ramping up the energy, we went onto the Teacups, with Tyler screaming with glee as he went around and around and around. The moment had finally come. We asked him if he wanted to go on the roller coaster and he sounded an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Having waited in line, we climbed into the bobsled and entered the base of the mountain, into pitch black. We started clicking up the tracks. Then we were off! Down the mountainside, around bends, splashing through water until at last we were unbuckling and jumping out. I had forgotten how jerky the ride was and had some concern as to whether or not he would have enjoyed all that motion. “How was it, buddy?” I asked. “Good,” came the reply. Alright, not too bad. He survived and wasn’t crying. Maybe he’ll warm up to it a bit.

The next day came and we asked if he wanted to go on the Matterhorn again, he said he would and this time rode with his mother. She held his head over the jerky spots of the course and we all made it down alive. But at the bottom he was looking pretty reserved and was quick to ask to go on a different ride. I was starting to wonder what was going on. We went to a different part of the park, and there he discovered another roller coaster: Mickey’s Gadget Coaster. A new, smooth ride that traveled a little quicker than the 1965 behemoth we’d been riding previously. He loved this thing. He would run down the cue, jump into our arms, point to the back seat and plead with the cast member to let him ride there. On the ride itself, he would throw his hands up in the air and squeal with delight as we went up, down and all around. Back at the station house, he would jump up, high-five the attendant and run out to the front of the cue again, yelling, “Do it again? Do it again!” We went on this thing easily 15 times during the course of three days.

On our last morning there, Tyler asked if we could go to the Matterhorn. A little surprised, we took him to the line, where he commenced crying. When asked why, he finally confessed, “Matterhorn is scary. It has eyes and a roar!” Everything became clear. As the cart goes up the initial slope in the dark, a set of red eyes peer out from the left, followed immediately by a loud roar. Later in the ride you pass a large abominable snowman, reaching out to grab you. Tyler was just fine with the speed and bumps. He was terrified of the story! Certainly not wanting to further traumatize our child, we let him know he needn’t go on the ride at all, and went on our merry way across the park and all the rest it had to offer.

Later that night, we’re back at Dumbo. Tyler looks at me and says, “I want to go to the Matterhorn.” I thought he was mistaken in his roller coasters and asked for clarification. He repeated his request and added, “I need to roar at the silly bears.” Astounded, I looked at my wife, asking her if she had put this thought into his head. She looked at me with an expression of wonderment, confirming that he had come up with this on his own.

When we walked over, we discovered the ride was temporarily down. When Tyler realized this, he lost it; sobbing and repeating, “I roar at the silly bears!” We tried to calm him down and brought him over to the other coaster, saying we’d come back in a bit to see if it was back in service. Upon our return, the ride had just begun to function again. The line wrapped around almost the entire mountain. It would be an hour to get on, and we had a flight to catch the next day. I bent down, explained this as best I could to my 2-year-old son, and asked, “If there was one last ride you could go on in Disneyland for a long time, what would it be?” He thought for a while, and looked up at me with confidence. “The Matterhorn.” All right. We’ll do it.

The Matthorn at Disney/Wikipedia

The cue moved surprisingly fast. All the while, Tyler was building his confidence like a prizefighter about to enter the ring. He kept practicing his roar, louder and louder. The crowd around us became enamored with this little wonder of a boy and his desire to conquer the silly bears. Finally strapped in and about to enter the cave, I turned around to see his face. He looked at me and roared. Click, click, click, we started going , “Tyler, here come the eyes!” “Roar!” Great job. “Tyler, here comes the roar!” “ROAR!” Amazing! We careened down the mountain. Over hill, under dale, past the grabbing yetis. All the while, my son is roaring at the top of his lungs. We turned the corner and I heard him yell, “Splash!” right before we hit the water that slows the cart down. We squeeze to a halt. Silence. I get out of the bobsled, and turn to grab him from my wife to assess any damage. I set him on the ground and knelt down next to him. “Tyler, was it fun?” I asked. “Yeah. Matterhorn is scary,” he replied. And after a short pause finished with, “But I roared at the silly bears!” My 2-year-old son somehow seemed to realize that his fear might prevent him from acting out a portion of his life. He has become my mentor.

What now? What if I roared at my fear? What if when I looked into a mirror, I didn’t see myself? What if I saw my family and a whole huge community of people? Having expressed such a hope, I’m not sure of the route. I would suggest grabbing coffee with some associates, maybe ones that don’t think the same way as you; that have differing experiences and presuppositions, and talking. Deeply engaging each other about how to take the next step. Listen to them, listen to yourself. Talk until you must act. Take a risk and put your thought into action. Then reflect. When this has occurred, maybe several times, we might gain some understanding. George Bernard Shaw said, “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.” We must not allow our fear of pain, suffering or life numb us to the point of inhumanity. We cannot ignore the lives of others.

This is the final in a three-part series.

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