Years ago I ran towards a ledge and jumped. I plunged forty-five feet into the water below. Then I blacked out.
We’re told to face our fears from a young age. While in the Bahamas, I took that advice to heart and attempted to conquer a fear of heights. I jumped off the cliff and passed out. My fear wasn’t overcome, it intensified.
I failed to face my fear.
Patrick Hendry’s image above of the girl and dog is striking. Instead of crippling fear, the image portrays confidence and courage. Neither the girl nor the dog has a fear of ledges. If they did, those fears were conquered long ago. Hendry’s photo conveys a story of fearlessness and excitement.
Before getting married, I again attempted to overcome my fear of heights. Our local zoo has a zip line adventure park. I climbed up to the first platform and walked across a suspension bridge to the second. Then the fear set in.
Knees shaking and heart racing, I physically could not use the slack line to walk to the next platform. Despite the safety harness preventing actual danger, my brain was overtaken. The staff set up a ladder for me to climb down. I failed again.
While visiting Chicago, my wife and I toured the Hancock Building’s observation floor. On the 94th floor, customers can enter a glass box that tilts outward, away from the building. My wife entered it gleefully. I couldn’t even watch. I turned toward the safety of the interior wall, my stomach quivering, anxiety coursing through my brain.
Sometimes fears cannot be overcome.
While Patrick Hendry’s photo is visually striking, drawing inspiration from the photo alone is misplaced. The story portrayed might not be reality. Perhaps the camera angle hides that the ledge is only feet from the ground? What if the girl in the photo is also terrified of heights?
Struggling with our fears make us human, not failures. When we take on the things that hold us back, regardless if we overcome or intensify them, we grow from the experience.
Even though heights cause me great trepidation, I love the view overlooking a large city. While in New York City, my wife and I visited the Rockefeller Center observation deck. Unlike other observation floors, Top of the Rock is outside. Strangely, the rushing wind helped to calm my nerves. I stood at the edge, protected by a wall of plexiglass, without pause. I enjoyed the view of the sprawling city.
Seeing a terrified man climb down a ladder or turn away from an observation deck is only a fraction of the whole story. I didn’t fail to face my fears. I faced my fears head on. Sometimes taking that small step is greater than overcoming the fear itself.
Thanks to Benjamin Sledge for the encouragement and edits.