Friday, August 31, 2012

Life Lessons From an Amusement Park, Part V

Today is the last day of this miniseries on lessons from an amusement park.  I suspect that there might be some out there who have read this week and considered that I may just be turning into a grumpy old man.  Trust me, I’ve thought the same thing on more than one occasion over the last few weeks.  That’s a possibility and even likely to be a genetic thing, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I came across that way at all.  But I do hope that there has been some thought-provoking stuff over the last four days, regardless of whether or not it was provoked by amusement parks.

So, on this last day of posts, I really tried to think about the best takeaway that I could come up with from my amusement park musings, ponderings, and insights.  As I thought about it, amusement parks and casinos have a lot of similarities.  If you’ve ever been to a casino, you know that you can pretty much go there any time of the day or night and find things happening.  In fact, I don’t know this for a fact, but I would gather that it might be difficult to find a clock in there.  They act as a refuge from the outside world, a shelter.  Hey, other than the obvious, why else would they come up with a slogan like, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?”

Amusement parks are similar in that they do their best to shelter you from the outside world.  They offer countless distractions from reality.  Places like Disney even go out of their way to have a world behind the scenes that prevents people from seeing where the trash goes and avoid two Mickey Mouses showing up in the same place at the same time.  Tell me that wouldn’t blow a kid’s mind.

But after all of the distractions, when the day is over, there’s still reality waiting for you.  You always have to go back to that place again.  Regardless of how many times or how long you go to the “happiest place on earth,” you’re always going to have to face the realities of life.  I guess you could go one of two ways with this as well.  There might be some people who say, well, what’s the point of distractions if you eventually have to face the facts.  I’m not one of those people.  We all need to have some distractions in life, most of us call them hobbies, but in order to maintain our sanity in an unstable world, these distractions are essential.

My oldest son has been in a place where he has asked whether or not certain things are real or not.  He knows that everything that he sees is not real, especially on TV, and so he will ask my wife and me whether something is real or not.  A few weeks ago, when he saw the Olympics on TV, he asked if they were real.  While it took me by surprise at first, it made sense considering that he saw them on TV.  When we were at Busch Gardens, he had a pretty healthy understanding that the things that he saw and experienced were not reality, but it didn’t prevent him from having fun, and to me, that’s the key.

There are distractions and then there are escapes.  Distractions have a way of clearing our heads, helping us to reconnect to a situation with new perspectives and insights.  Escapes are simply means of avoiding the inevitable.  The two words may be used more interchangeably than they should be, but I do see a clear distinction between them.  Distractions can help us to find joy and excitement outside of the mundane or difficult circumstances that we might regularly face.  Escapes simply attempt to stay away from those circumstances for as long as possible.

Amusement parks to just what they say, they amuse us.  At least, for the price tag, I hope they do.  And that’s a good thing.  But the minute that we find ourselves escaping to our own little private “amusement parks” on a regular basis, we need to do a health check and find out what the deeper issue is.  A week away from internet, Facebook, work, and cable was a good thing to remind me of that.  We all need to unplug and remember the things in life that are important to us.  It might not last long, but how long it lasts shouldn’t matter as much as what we do with the time that we allot for it.

A few years ago, I was getting into a rhythm of taking a day a month to have a spiritual retreat day.  Sometimes I would just go to a local park, other times I drove a distance to a lake house owned by some people in my church.  If I spent my time wisely, it was life-giving, a time of recharge in which I would gain new perspective and be ready to face new challenges when I got back to reality again.  That’s what distractions can provide for us, but hopefully they are guided distractions.  Sometimes mine are, and sometimes they aren’t.  I need to get better at it, but I’m still learning and growing.

Someday, I’m going to get back to the “happiest place on earth” again.  It will be a fun distraction from the realities of life, but I hope that when I come back to the ground of reality, I will be a little more calm, a little more relaxed, and a little more ready to face the things before me.  Everybody needs a little time away!

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