Whenever I find myself at the top of a roller coaster or being swung out by some great mechanical arm over emptiness or staring down from the apex of a Ferris wheel, I begin to remember, and I begin to speak. Words pour from my mouth like candy from a piñata. It is some vestigial reflex from a childhood fear of heights, and as the ride inevitably starts to speed, these words become confessions, curses, praises and screams, all flying from my mouth as I race through the air. It is never long before I start calling on the divine. I remember how my grandmother said the Hail Mary in Gallic and shout it out before I sing the Five pillars Islam. In the course of sixty seconds at sixty miles per hour, I am a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, my indecision causing me to embrace them all. With each of my calls to the divine I am trying to share the wonder I am feeling. It is for this reason that I put my faith in these giants of steel, in these feats of human engineering and geometric splendor. I believe in the atheist’s leap of faith. I believe in carnival rides.
Not unlike the great moments of life, the rides seem short only in hindsight, when you stand in the future, heart beating and your pores whistling. Good ones are like good jazz: smooth transitions and ups and downs like the notes of a Coltrane saxophone solo. The bad ones leave your back crooked and your neck cricked, your hand clenching another sweaty palm, either your own or someone else’s. And if you stumble off and find yourself leaning over the nearest trash barrel, then I tell you: here is the ultimate test of humor. Smile, recover, and laugh. Experience the embarrassment of being a human among humans.
I believe in the last sight of sky as you are inched to the top, in how your heart jumps from its birdcage at the first drop. I believe in believing in the engineering of man, in how after four corkscrew spirals atheists and believers alike open their mouths and welcome the divine like St. Teresa de Avila. I believe in unlikely romances at the top of Ferris wheels and I believe in readmitting yourself to reality as the car moves itself back to the ground. How could I not? This is freedom: the wind whips tears out the corners of my eyes, I howl as I turn parallel to the ground, my cheeks glow as I grin. I am crying, I am screaming, I am laughing. Every emotion plausible exists within a two minute span when each moment seems like it could be your last. No parts of your words or faith are unacceptable when you are diving into a mechanized unknown. No god is not my own when I am ensconced in this manufactured rapture. I believe in embracing this engineered uncertainty. I believe in carnival rides.
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