The Power of No
“Open your eyes! Open your eyes!
This exhortation has been bellowed at me by every partner I’ve ever had on a ride at the fair as I sat folded in on myself like a clam, eyes shut, white-knuckled hands gripping the cold metal bar that held me in place. Knowing full well that I deplore thrill rides, I have nonetheless allowed myself to be coerced into their little metal death cars more times than I care to admit. School friends talked me into The Scrambler once, with disastrous results that involved the loss of my dinner behind one of the livestock display tents. Several years later, I was talked onto Space Mountain at Disneyland only to have it break down midway through the excursion, leaving me hanging like a side of beef, half upside down in total darkness.
The Songwriter himself has been successful in using his considerable powers of suggestion to place me squarely onto some of these rides, once sending me plummeting thirteen stories in the all too appropriately named Tower Of Terror. As my stomach relocated itself somewhere near the vicinity of my collar bone I made a decision.
I didn’t say anything about it. I just calmly stood in line for the next loopdeloop with a smile on my face. But when the roller coaster cars came roaring into the station and everyone climbed aboard, I simply stepped into, and right back out the other side of, my car. I turned to see the startled face of The Songwriter as he flew off into oblivion, seated next to a tow-headed six year old boy. Sighing a peaceful sigh, I purchased a cool drink, took a book out of my straw bag, and sat down under a palm tree to await his return. Thus ended my thrill seeking career.
The power of “no” is a marvelously liberating one, but one most of us seldom employ. We trot off to lunches we’d rather not attend. We join committees we loathe. Now of course we all must do things we’d rather not, perhaps every day of our lives. There are dentist appointments and tax returns. We all have to muck out the stable sometimes. But I speak here of those extracurricular activities that we are no more bound to participate in than we are to fly. Why do we say yes, when we want to say no? I was once invited to a cutlery party by a neighbour. She was a very nice woman but try as I might I simply could not warm to the idea of sitting in a room full of ladies sipping wine and buying knives. So I called her up and told her I could not make it. She asked me why, a question I was unprepared for. So I told her the truth.
“To be perfectly honest”, I said, “it just isn’t something I care to do.”
To my surprise she laughed a hearty laugh and praised me no end for my candor saying, “Good for you! If only I’d been so brave, I wouldn’t be having this damn thing at my house. I just didn’t know how to say no!”
It was my uncle who got me on my first ferris wheel when I was just a toddler. As the car we were in rose higher and higher in the air, swaying malevolently all the while, I became more and more terrified until I was too scared to scream. Then I noticed my father on the ground far below. His expression was grim and highly determined as he faced down the operator of the ride. I could read his lips as they formed the words,
“Get Her Off This Thing. Now”.
Ignoring the line of riders waiting to board, the ride slowly, slowly, lowered until my little feet could touch ground and I ran like a bullet to Daddy.
“You don’t ever have to do that again”, he said.
Such a valuable lesson.
It just took me awhile to learn.