I despise heights. Some may see this as an irrational fear, and perhaps they’re right, but ridiculous or not, it freezes me up. It’s quite the hindrance to enjoying quite a few things, as well, like walking along a street curb.
A couple of years ago, the girls and I toured the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the first of many such excursions they wish to take. Two hundred and fifty tiny steps made out of metal with holes to enable you to see the plummeting depth below you as you climb. The guard rail was a thin metal bar I could easily wrap my fingers around. There was no safety there, really, except my sense of survival, which kept me away from the edge. I made it to the top, however, I’m proud to say, although the pace was slow and we were often passed by other tourists who had no such fear of falling hundreds of feet to their death. I, on the other hand, have a deep respect for gravity and took great, tedious care with each trembling step. The stairs had lasted over a century I was assured, but with my luck they would pick that very moment to disintegrate into dust and decay, leaving me dangling by a scrawny railing.
Once we were on the circular landing that wrapped around the lighthouse, I remained plastered to the bright red stucco. A metal red rail equally as insubstantial as the stair railing was all that kept us from leaning too far over and free falling into a puddle of memories someone would have to mop up. I wasn’t going to take that chance.
|Why did I have to look down?|
“C’mon, Robbie. It’s perfectly safe,” the girls tried to coax me to the edge with them. “Come see what’s down there.”
“I know what’s down there,” I said, keeping my eyes upward, enjoying the clouds high up in the sky. “I was just down there, remember? Why do I want to see the top of people’s heads?”
“You’re being ridiculous. This is a beautiful view.”
“I’m enjoying a nice view, right now. Why, look at that pelican up there flying around.”
In Virginia, they wanted me to cross a thin swing bridge held up by ropes. Again, it was to see a beautiful vista of mountains and natural forest. They had pictures of the same landscape in the gift shop below and I saw no need to risk my neck take a picture someone else had already taken. It seemed redundant to me. I could see my foot busting through one of the wooden slats to dangle helpless at the people below. Who knew how often they replaced the wood? It could be weather rotted and ready to crumble to dust. I’m sure my fat gut was more than the allotted weight limit and I could see us crashing to our deaths all because I needed another Ho-Ho. No, I’m safer on the ground where gravity requires I should be. There is no need for me to go where others have already been to see what they already saw.
|Seriously, I'm fine right here.|
Besides, I can’t control my morbid imagination, which only helps fuel my fear. When I see the edge and the sudden drop my mind pictures me going over it and I feel the impact and see the aftermath that is a very real possibility. It would only take one slip, one misstep. There would be no recovery. My mind lives the fall, my breath becomes ragged, and my chest constricts until I want to scream. I can’t even walk along the balcony of a second-story building without the fear gripping me in its clutches and squeezing my chest tight with its icy fingers. My hands get clammy and my breathing ragged. I become dizzy and want to vomit. It’s not a good sensation and my fear grows deeper roots.
When I was younger, my fear of heights almost kept me from the high dive. We were enjoying our time at a community pool with friends and I watched the other kids climb up that long ladder, prance out on that toothpick they called a diving board, and leap into the air, hurling themselves to the water below. It scared me to death just watching it.
I wanted to do it.
My mom was probably shocked when her scaredy-cat son said it, but she hid it well. “Go for it. You’ll have fun.” Keep in mind that my mother doesn’t swim. Where I have a fear of heights, she has a fear of water. When she taught my sister and I to swim, she stood on the side of an above ground pool and merely told us what to do. It we went under, we were on our own and we knew it. It was swim or drown, and we didn’t care for the latter option too much. Luckily, the community pool came equipped with a lifeguard, so I didn’t have to rely on Mom.
Still, that was a long drop and I was ready to chicken out before my foot had touched the first rung of the ladder. Pauline came to my rescue, however. At the time, she was like a second mother to us, only one who could swim and enjoyed water. As she saw me wanting to back out, she was out of her chair, following me, encouraging me on to the high dive. “You can do it, Robbie. I’ll be right behind you.”
By now, everyone was watching us and I was trapped. I had to do it or be picked on even more so at school than I already was. Still, no one was being discouraging, knowing I was already about to wet my bathing suit and I hadn’t even been in the water, yet. Even the lifeguard was allowing Pauline to follow me up the ladder when he had blown his shiny whistle at everyone else who tried to go up two at a time. It was as if everyone knew how important a step this was for me and was doing their best to make it happen.
I climbed the ladder, one wobbly step at a time, and before I was ready, I found myself standing on that thin, bouncing board. Pauling had been right behind me the entire time. I had watched everyone else run the length of the diving board and leap into the air performing some fantastic twirl or belly flop. That wasn’t going to happen with me. With my luck, I’d slip, hit the board and roll off to land on the side of the pool, instead of in the water. I inched my way out, instead, doing my best to stay in the exact middle of the board. My focus stayed on each step I took without seeing beyond my feet because I knew the minute I realized how far up I was, I would chicken out.
|You want me to climb that?|
I finally made it to the end of the board and was forced at that point to see the water below. I was ready to cry. What in the world had I gotten myself into? I should have just kept my mouth shut and stayed on the shallow steps with the little kids.
I wasn’t going to do it. I would just turn around and climb back down the ladder, chickening out like I did with most things in my life. However, a glance behind me showed Pauline standing at the other end of the diving board watching me. “You can do this, Robbie. I’m right behind you.”
I turned back around to face the water below. I was going to have to jump whether I wanted to or not. Well, it had been a nice life, so far. I took a deep breath and then stepped off the diving board as most people would step off a curb. I didn’t scream on the way down, although I wanted to. I held my breath and waited for the water to squish me like concrete.
My feet pierced the surface and I plunged into the deep end. I was already scrambling for the surface before I was halfway under; just knowing I was going to drown. After all, I had already been holding my breath and who knew how much longer I could keep holding it. I should practice that incase I am ever forced into this situation again. I was going to survive the fall only to drown afterwards. From the frying pan, into the fire, I just knew it. Yes, I was paranoid. And dramatic.
My head popped back up like a submerged buoy and Pauline was right there, as she promised. The minute my feet had left the high dive, she had raced down the board and jumped in right behind me. When I broke the surface, so did she, laughing and bragging at my accomplishment. She swam with me to the edge of the pool and everyone was clapping. The dork had jumped and survived! I wrapped myself into a towel and sat on the lounge chair trying not to cry as the adrenaline of unnecessary fear washed out of me with the dripping water.
|I'm going to die. I know it.|
Without Pauline there, I never would have followed through on what I wanted to do. We all have fears. One of the main reasons most people don’t go after their dreams is merely because they’re afraid. They need a Pauline in their life. You need a Pauline in your life, as well. I’ve been blessed with a family that constantly pushes me in my dreams to the point of almost nagging. Without them, I never would have achieved all that I have, so far. The girls are invaluable to me and are my biggest supporters. There are others, as well. Family members in other states, such as Teri’s cousin, Randy McCall, who helps promote my blog and Facebook page, and Amanda Lowry, a friend of my kids, who helps share my writing. I have also made some fantastic friends on Facebook and Twitter this past year that are a constant source of encouragement as we help each other promote our creative efforts. Because of them I have been able to participate in projects and writings I would never have even known about last year and these people are special because it’s not just business; it’s friendship, as well. We each have a dream and we are going to help each other achieve it.
Not only do you need people like that in your life, but you need to be that person for others. Help push people past their fears and into their dreams. As much as I love seeing my numbers and stats climb, I get a bigger kick out of assisting someone else reach a new goal. You will achieve more by helping others along the way, than by only worrying about yourself. We all need someone right behind us as we get ready to take that leap. It’s a long way down, but together we’ll bust through the surface to an applauding audience, cheering because we busted through our fear and took a chance at our dream.
This year, climb that ladder. Push past your fears and jump. I, for one, will be right behind you.
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