64: A Ride on a Carousel

64: A Ride on a Carousel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

A Ride on a Carousel

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

~Nathaniel Hawthorne

One year when I was in my thirties I found myself alone on a carousel horse in the middle of December wondering what I was supposed to do with my life. The carousel ride was a lot like my life — it kept going and going but never got anywhere. I went up and down on the horse as I experienced ups and downs in my life, but my place in the world never really changed. I was always behind someone else and never seemed to make a difference. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help people but I didn’t know how.

I spent some time visiting the rest of the amusement park and looking at the Christmas decorations. I found myself smiling at the children around me on the train ride, all of us braving the cold while we drove through fields of twinkling lights. I laughed at the street performers telling jokes and I applauded the theater cast for putting on a great Christmas show. I scared myself a little on a few rides and when I got cold I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate and some popcorn. I didn’t mind at all that I was alone because there were so many people around me having a good time.

And I was having a good time too. I loved being at amusement parks in any season. There is just something about them that still makes me excited even though I’ve visited our local park at least five hundred times in my lifetime. I still feel like a kid when I walk up to the gate.

I was thinking about how much I had enjoyed my evening as I sat on a bench finishing my hot chocolate. A couple stopped in front me trying to read a park map. It was dark and the maps have small print so they were having trouble. They had a young girl with them, about three years old, who was dancing around a lot but not saying anything so I guessed this was a bathroom emergency. I excused myself for interrupting them and asked if they needed to find a restroom. They looked relieved and said yes — and soon.

I turned them around and pointed to the closest bathroom. It was only a few yards away but if you had never seen the park in the daytime you wouldn’t know it was there at night. They thanked me, and the woman and the little girl quickly ran to the bathroom. The man asked me how I knew they were looking for a restroom and I explained that I had a daughter also and I knew the “potty” dance when I saw it. Because of her I knew where every bathroom in the park was.

The woman and the little girl came out and joined the man and thanked me again for my help. I had saved their evening since they didn’t have a change of clothing with them for their daughter and if she had had an accident they would have had to go home and miss seeing Santa. I pointed the way to Santa’s workshop for them and they left smiling, with the little girl running ahead.

I know how bad it would have been if they had had to leave. I still remember how hard it was to scrape up the money to bring my daughter to the park when she was young and how important it was that we had a good time since we could only go once a year. We were lucky that as she got older we could afford season passes so she and I were able to become regulars at the park.

That night on that cold bench, with an empty hot chocolate cup, I finally figured out how I could make a difference. I could do what I did for that little girl’s family for a whole lot of other families by sharing what I had learned about amusement parks. I could help them save money and time, plus tell them how to have a great day while they were there.

I walked through the park watching the people and thinking of all the things I knew that I could share. Some of it was simple advice such as drink lots of water and find the bathrooms on the map early in your trip before you have an emergency. But I also knew some other things that took some time to figure out, such as where to find the best milkshakes, who serves a kid’s meal that is big enough for an adult and when are the lines for the coasters the shortest. Knowing all those little things can add up to one big thing — a fun day out with the family.

That December evening my life changed. I began to share my travel tips with others so they could have more fun with their families at amusement parks and other places in our state. I began traveling to more and more amusement parks to find their hidden joys and the pitfalls parents might encounter. I shared what I found on a website I started for families planning trips. These days I spend my time doing something I feel makes a difference — helping families create great memories.

Now when I ride the carousel I don’t feel like I’m going in circles. I feel like I have a whole new life filled with purpose. As my painted pony spins around and around I smell the popcorn, I hear the people screaming on the roller coaster and I tap my toes to the melody of the Wurlitzer organ while I think of my next travel tip for my readers.

I am still riding in a circle but now I am going somewhere.

~Shawn Marie Mann

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