There’s a ferris wheel at Coney Island. I’ve seen it from a distance but never been on it since heights frighten me. Even visualizing a dangerous yet imaginary height can give me immediate cold sweats and a flash of vertigo. I surprised myself recently upon suggesting to someone that I wanted to ride the ferris wheel. My plans for the day amounted to not much more than sipping tiny umbrella drinks on the boardwalk.
Ferris wheel rides seem idyllic. Children eat cotton candy. Couples coo over one another in slow motion. The elderly stare at close-flying birds. I wasn’t prepared for anything action-packed. Nor was I prepared for a lesson on the difference between an inner car and an outer car. I figured one wheel had one type of car. When I was loaded into our inner car it immediately began to swing mischievously. Perhaps I’d miscalculated, always hoping my five minutes of fame would be more glorious. Being in the proximity of clowns or oversized stuffed pandas when I meet my doom is not poignant.
By mid-ride I became aware of how disorienting a swinging cart on a 150-foot tall ferris wheel is. I was heartened that riding the wheel had sparked a discernible joy in my partner. Absent this support I probably would’ve screamed the collective scream of 50,000 fans at a Lady Gaga concert. I internalized by making calculations. I gathered that if the car were to unhinge itself at full velocity the worst thing that would happen would be falling slowly through the inner compartment of the wheel. No swift ejection from the outer part of the wheel into the ocean.
When do people choose to compartmentalize their lives? I was afraid of heights yet chose to go on a very tall ride. I had to become someone outside my normal personality in order to get through the experience. I was engaged in a mild coping or compartmentalization. In psychology there’s an extreme of this. In a fugue state a person with past trauma can face a retriggering of it. In order to deal with a painful memory a person effectively shuts down their ability to process the present. A complete amnesia for the events which happen immediately after the retrigger occurs. People can be in a fugue state for minutes, hours, or even days.
I temporarily overcame a fear. Yet I’ve wondered if it was indeed a lesson that can translate into my everyday life. For me, it was heroic. Yet not every waking moment of my day involves navigating heroic moments. I don’t live my life in crisis mode; I don’t want to. The best that I can fathom is that I dove headfirst into confronting a personal issue in the presence of someone else. I allowed myself to be both vulnerable yet willing to trust. In a parallel life there’s the possibility that the person next to me would expect manliness or bravery. Perhaps they wouldn’t even be there in the moment, leaving me to freak out on my own. By sharing a heightened moment with someone who was actually present I was afforded a very real glimpse that my life is not in isolation. My moment of personally confronting what bothered me was intertwined with another person. In this way I was able to see that a moment of personal growth does not have to stay personal. It can be translated by a trust of other people.