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James R. Stout

The Click-Click-Click Side

            I was a month shy of turning 18 the first time that I rode a rollercoaster. That probably sounds like I was a late bloomer or something. I had been to the original Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Texas in the summer of 1968, but did not ride a rollercoaster on that visit. It was incredibly crowded the day we went, and I was with my sister (then 16-years-old) and she never was one to ride things like rollercoasters and such. So, we only rode a few rides and they had to be something that she could stomach. Oh, I suppose I could have gone by myself, but they required two people to sit in each car and I would have had to find a stranger to ride with. As I recall, it was roughly 120 degrees or something and we saw the Red, White, and Blue Revue at the indoor air-conditioned theater two or three times. Heck, we didn’t even ride the Log Ride because she didn’t want to get wet. Party pooper!

            I went to Astroworld the first day of summer vacation in 1971, but there really wasn’t a rollercoaster at that time. There was something called the Runaway Mine Train, but it just wound around inside a make believe mine and was tame to say the least. So, it wasn’t until August of 1973 when I took my girlfriend to Astroworld that I first got to ride on a rollercoaster. It was called The Excalibur. I suppose by today’s standards it was pretty tame, but it did give you some thrills and it was quite enjoyable. Especially when my girlfriend hung on to me for dear life! I think we rode that coaster three times that day. It’s one of those days that I will always hold nostalgia for and have fond memories of.

            The rollercoaster was about half a mile in length in total, but of course it was not in a straight line. Lots of curves and some climbing and one tall drop. That drop was 80 feet. To put that into perspective, the coaster only got as high as 86 feet and it dropped 80 feet at approximately 46 miles an hour. At the bottom of that drop you were only 6 feet from the ground, but you weren’t there long because it made a whipping turn to the right and you were off again. For those who like statistics, dropping 80 feet at 46 mph means that it only took a little over a second to go from top to bottom. I know there are rollercoasters today that drop from ridicules heights at much faster speeds, but that’s about as fast as I ever cared to drop 80 feet. But let me tell you something. That drop, as thrilling and scary as it might have been, couldn’t hold a candle to one other part of the ride so far as the scare factor was concerned. Not even close. The worst or scariest part of the ride was the agonizingly slow climb to the top of that drop. The part of that slow climb that was pure torture was the click-click-click sound of the coaster mechanism that filled your ears and your heart with dreaded anticipation. Then as you got closer to the top, all these people in the cars in front of you would lift their arms up in the air and you just knew what was about to happen. And there wasn’t a thing you could about it. You were going down that drop and that was that. Writing this now, I can still feel the butterflies in my stomach as I cuddled up to my girlfriend and we braced ourselves for that plunge.

            I guess I rode that rollercoaster another 5 times over the next few years. The only other rollercoaster I’ve ever ridden was another coaster that they built at Astroworld in the late 70’s. We just had to try it. I didn’t much care for it though. The cars were too close together and my knees were jammed up against the back of the next car. It was a much rougher ride and my knees took a beating. I think it was called The Texas Cyclone. I suppose I was content with tamer rides.

            Now that I’ve told you all about my experience with rollercoasters, let me tell you about something that we all end up riding and in some ways it’s like that 80-foot drop on Excalibur. Before you get to thinking I’m being morbid, just let me say – DON’T! What it is that we all must one day “ride” is death. None of us likes to think about it, but all of us do think about it. We can’t help but think about it. When we are young, we don’t think about it very much and it seems like eons in the future, but as we get older death starts to become more real. We lose friends and loved ones and sometimes we lose them unexpectedly and without warning. I remember when I was 24-years-old I got a phone call from a church member telling me that a friend from church had been killed in a car accident earlier that day. She was 5 months pregnant too. It was a shock and had the understandable effect on me as a young man. I had lost aunts and uncles who were “old” before that and I even lost my best childhood friend when he drowned the summer, we were both 9-years-old. But none of those had quite the same effect. For the first time, I realized that I could die in a car accident just as easily.

            The fact is we know at even a young age that death is a part of life. We just don’t face it then. But we will come face to face with it someday. Not to get too religious here, but the fact is I am a Christian. I have the firm belief and faith that when this body dies, I will live in a new body in Heaven. I am as certain of this as a person can be. Here’s the part where death is like that 80-foot drop on the rollercoaster. I know death is coming just like I knew that drop was coming. The click-click-click sound is replaced with the sound of a clock ticking except death is like the first time I rode that coaster. The first time I didn’t know exactly when the drop would happen. Our approaching death is like that. We don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen. Even if we are diagnosed with a terminal illness and told we have 4 weeks or 6 months or whatever, we haven’t been through death before and we don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen. I will say that there is a certain advantage for some people by having a diagnosis such as just mentioned. At least you have time to prepare, to say your goodbyes, to make amends, and to eventually embrace the inevitable.

            I’m 63-years-old now. But that doesn’t mean that someone who is 19 or 25 or 38 or 49 or 55 is going to make it to 63. Death can happen to us all at any time. What everyone needs to do though is to make sure you are ready for the day your earthly life ends and your eternal life begins. We Christians tend to think that only we Christians will have eternal life. That’s not exactly the reality of it though. Everyone ever born will have eternal life. What makes the difference is how and where you spend that eternity. I for one have no desire to spend my eternity in a place of darkness that is absent of anything good, decent, and moral. To be in the presence of God and His Son Jesus is something that we now cannot fully understand how great it will be. It’s like trying to tell a blind person what a sunset over the ocean looks like. He can’t really understand how beautiful it is because he has never seen the sun or ocean or the colors and shapes of the clouds etc.  

            All of this said, the truth is that while we are still alive, still have breath in this body, and still have a functioning brain, we are on the click-click-click side of death. We can make sure that the drop isn’t a bad thing. For me, it’s going to be the biggest thrill I’ll ever experience. No, the act of dying doesn’t sound fun at all. I’ve witnessed too many loved ones in their last few weeks of life to allow myself to be fooled into thinking the act of dying is any fun. But once it’s done, once we breath our last breath, death is not something that I fear at all. Like I said, it’s going to be a heck of a ride!

            So, next time you ride a rollercoaster I want you to think about dying. (Cue laugh track) Seriously, be prepared for that eventual moment when you reach the top of a big drop and make sure that it’s a great thrilling ride instead of a plunge that I promise you, will not be one bit of fun.

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