Alum Post: The Year of the Coaster

Emily Hess - Senegal


August 5, 2011

Towards to end of my bridge year, every expert, friend, Peace Corps volunteer, and staff member warned the fellows that life after this, to say the least, would be a “roller-coaster”. By that, they meant that there would be a fair share of ups, downs, loops, side spins, twirls, jerks, and bumps. The description of a roller-coaster and the description of my bridge year, coupled with my re-entry, seemed to match up almost identically. It’s safe to say by now that they were right. Unfortunately for me, I had never been a very big fan of roller-coasters.

On Sunday I made the decision to face yet another fear: amusement park rides—the big ones. I’m talking some of the biggest, scariest, and steepest in all of the mid-west. There isn’t much to do here, so trust me when I say that these coasters are the real deal. And I couldn’t have been more against the idea—at first.

I came into the park with a deep, sickening gut feeling, wobbly legs, and a spinning head. I just couldn’t shake it. Everywhere I turned there was screaming, metal screeching, and the sounds of wheels hard-pressed against solid steel at sixty-plus miles an hour. I passed one by one, shaking my head in dismay until a member of my group nudged me with an elbow.

“Roll the dice,” he said. “Take a chance; you can do this.”

Something familiar rang in the back of my head. Here I was, almost a year after hiking on the back of the biggest adventure of my young life and feeling the same feeling. Things had come full circle faster than I felt like I could ever process them. Change, relationships, new language, culture, and life had all taken a toll on the old fear and turned it into new gusto. So where was this bravery? I remember clearly overcoming and facing this same gut-wrenching, brain-tugging vortex of emotion. And I remember winning against it. The real roller-coaster was not in this amusement park, it was in the Global Citizen Year that I worked so hard to achieve. I HAD taken a chance, I did get off the ride alive, and when I turned back to look at what I’d done, the drops and twists from the ride I jumped onto in September never overlooked the pride and dignity I gained from getting off. There was no reason that anything should stop me now, especially not an amusement park ride on my home turf.

I smiled at this realization and looked up to the friend on my shoulder. I was in line before I knew it and everything familiar came sweeping back to me. Waiting in line was like waiting to take off on my first flight, boarding the car was like landing in a new country, the exhilaration of the up, and the terror of the down described to the point—in a shorter amount of time—what it was like to face this past year. And in a short minute the ride was over with only a memory and a swelling of great pride to turn around and look back on. But I couldn’t have been happier. Here I was, bringing the year of my life full-circle, facing the tough swirl and change of both a roller-coaster of life on a bridge year, as well as the literal rides at parks. And I didn’t stop at one real ride; I rode all of them in the park. And I won’t stop here; I will continue to find life’s greatest adventures because I know that when I look back, I will come to find how much there is to love about a life of roller-coasters. It was worth it then, and it’s worth it now.

Emily Hess