Fears: Heights

Disclaimer: If you have a fear of heights, I recommend you avoid reading this post.

For The First Time…

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of November, I traveled to Chicago with my little sister (my foreign exchange student) who was visiting for just a few days. One of the things she wanted to do before she left was visit the Willis Tower. She wanted to travel all the way up to the Skydeck on floor 103. I couldn’t understand why. It was just a really tall building and it was going to cost $20 to ride an elevator all the way to the top and look out over a bunch of other buildings. Didn’t seem worth it to me. However, she’s my sister and in a few days she would be traveling back to Europe, and I wanted to make the most of her time here. So, I went ahead and paid and rode that elevator all the way to the top with her. Lucky us, we got there early. No line. No wait. Plenty of time on the 103 floor.

Once there, we wandered about. A railing sat between us and all of the windows, like they were part of a museum display or something. She took pictures. I stared at the haze that was taking over the city on this early November morning. It wasn’t until we wrapped back towards the elevators that I realized what the draw was to coming to the top of the Willis Tower: the glass box. That’s right. Four identical glass boxes protrude from the 103 floor of this building so that you may stand in them, look down, and see nothing but air… and the sidewalk.

Naturally, we had to step out onto it and being so early meant we had plenty of time to acquaint ourselves with the height and by ‘ourselves’ I mean my little sister. She shook and trembled. Her eyes were wide. Her phone in her hands took pictures of all the views, all the angles, and her steps were tentative as she wandered out into the box. I, on the other hand, didn’t have that sense of terror. No, I’m not lying to you people. I’m serious. I had no fear of stepping into the suspending, glass box with nothing but air beneath me. There was no quickened breathing, no rapid heartbeat, no drops of sweat. I stood there, staring down at the tiny, little people wandering about on the sidewalk a hundred floors below and felt… nothing.

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Strange, huh?

I thought so. So, did all the other people who were now beginning to emerge on the top floor, ready to experience the box and the funny thing was watching all of them. Each one, or at least most, would tremble and quake. Their feet would take the tiniest steps towards the box, daring them to step onto it. They’d all lean forwards at the edge. Then, quickly snap back upright when they saw just how far down it was and meanwhile, I’m sitting here in the glass box, just hanging out. Frankly, I was so calm that when I laid down on the glass, I felt like I could’ve fallen asleep. I dunno. Heights don’t scare. They’ve never been one of those things that makes my palms sweat, or my heart run like a race horse. It’s not on my list of fears. I think that’s because I’ve been conditioned to heights since a very young age.

A Tradition…

Every labor day the Mackinaw bridge, which connects the upper and lower Michigan peninsulas, is opened up for pedestrians traffic. The five-mile long bridge takes you up over where two of the Great Lakes, Michigan and Huron, meet. For me, this is a tradition. For me, this is normal. I’ve walked the bridge since my parents had to push me across in a stroller.

Now, I look forward to the sway of the bridge under my feet that makes everyone walk like they’ve had a little too much to drink. I love when the sun peeks over the horizon, blinding us from the east as it casts an ethereal glow over everyone and everything. I get excited when I look through the grates in the middle lanes of the bridge, which reveals the green framework of the bridge and, below that, the lakes. There’s something just so… freeing and liberating about being up high and looking down on the dark waters below.

However, for some, this is a source of panic.

Hidden Strength…

This past labor day, I walked by a woman who had a fear of heights, but, instead of walking in the far left lane where the bridge is solid pavement all the way across(a place where you can’t look through the bridge at the water below), she remained in the right lane where the grates exposed everything, or really nothing, underneath the bridge, because she didn’t want to walk behind all of the slow people. She was facing her fears. It was obvious. Her terror shown in her wide eyes as she stared directly ahead at the bridge towers, and her rigid form as she walked as quickly as she dared on the wet and slippery metal grating.

It was interesting to speak with her. It’s interesting to watch a person in fear, but more so to watch them face those fears. She was doing it alone, too. No friends. No family. Just walking a five-mile, swaying bridge all by herself. To me that says she’s strong. She wasn’t going to let her fears stand in her way. She wanted to walk the bridge and she did it. For that, I commend her.

What is Fear?

On another note, though, I can’t help but be fascinated by fears, their abnormal place in humans, and how they’re unique to each person. What causes a person to fear something? For some it’s a traumatic event, but what about others? Where does the fear of heights come from if you’ve never fallen? And is it really a fear of heights, or fear of the possibility of falling?

Really though, I’m curious to know how someone can be afraid of something that I, myself, find so freeing and wonderful. What do you think? Are you afraid of heights, too, and I’m just a crazy person? :p If not, what do you fear? Do you know why you fear it?

Just food for thought.

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