I stood at the edge of the crowd of adoring family and friends cheering on the riders of the Flying Horses Carousel at Oak Bluffs. My coworker from Boston, had told me that when she was a child, her family came here every summer. It was a popular spot on Martha’s Vineyard. I could just see her in little-girl-braids, sitting atop one of the horses that remained stationary while the carousel went round-and- round. She, like the other riders, would have reached out and tried to grasp one of the lucky brass rings to earn a free ride.
Before my trip, my friend told me, “You have to try for a ring, Connie.”
But I held back and remained an observer of the oldest operating platform carousel in the United States.
Now I asked myself, “Why didn’t I get on and ride?” After going all that distance, my first solo trip to Massachusetts, why did I stop short of my goal?
That fourth journey had taken a lot of initiative, especially planning my transportation: by air to Logan, then charter bus to Woods Hole, followed by ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, and shuttle bus to the hostel. By that day at Oak Bluffs, I had explored most of the island, so why didn’t I just hop on that carousel? Was I afraid that as a fifty-two-year old woman I would look foolish? Could I have felt like I failed if I didn’t capture a brass ring— kind of like missing a grounder when I played softball that summer after high school?
Not trying for a ring didn’t ruin my trip. There’d been many enriching experiences since my arrival on the island. I’d gotten to know the international community of travelers at my first hostel. One day I started with coffee at the Clay Cliffs of Aquinnah and ended watching the sunset in the fishing village of Menemsha.
So why did I still feel something was missing? I think I knew.
The carousel represented half-lived experiences.
Looking back on my life, before my breast cancer diagnosis at forty-five, I often fell into the role of an observer. Perhaps as the second-born child, I had gotten used to letting my older sister go first and take the risks. That pattern continued into my adulthood—as I was seldom the first to raise my hand and volunteer. But when chemo made my hair fall out and I had to do work presentations in my itchy wig, I couldn’t retreat. All I could do was step forward. While I didn’t like having cancer, or a toxic job, I was grateful that God helped me through that time and worked inside of me to give me greater boldness. Sometimes that happens when you feel you have nothing to lose.
What if I’d let myself go and approached that carousel ride like I was a child? I would have had a whole-body experience. The muscles in my outstretched hand would have either felt the ring or grasped the air. My legs would recall the climb onto that historic horse, touching the real horsehair mane, and looking into their dazzling glass eyes. My face would remember the cool breeze as we circled around to the happy tunes of the Wurlitzer Band Organ. I would have been part of that community of riders that dated back to the late 1800s, sharing the joy of a whimsical orbit on the back of a still horse. And whether or not I captured a ring– I would have felt the satisfaction of knowing I’d been fully engaged. That I’d been a participant, not an observer.
I wish I’d had the boldness that day at the carousel that I’d had during cancer. Now, I think this regret is a reminder to go ahead and live life fully. Don’t hold back.
And if I take a trip again to Oak Bluffs, I plan to hop up on that carousel horse and
‘fly like nobody’s watching.’
What about you?
Are there situations where you’d like to move from being an observer to a participant?
What would help you make this change?