I don’t think of myself as much of an adventurer, but I like broadening my horizons. I’ve traveled a bit off the beaten path and seen and done some things that may not be on everybody’s itinerary. I’d like to think of myself as, if not quite fearless, at least someone who is not easily daunted. At least if I act like I am not afraid, I might appear less anxious than I actually am.
But, one thing that I don’t often do a good job of masking — and too often it has held me back — is my fear of heights. Several years ago I worked in an office on the fifth floor of a building. The main conference room looked out over an atrium. It was nearly impossible for me to concentrate if I sat facing the atrium unless the blinds were closed. To get to the window side of the conference table, I would walk sideways with my back to the windows. After a remodel, the main conference room was on the fourth floor, but still overlooking the atrium fountain. Since it didn’t seem as high, I wasn’t as bothered, though I still sat where I wouldn’t have to look out. That is, until I heard a news story that claimed that if you were on the 4th floor or above in a fire, you wouldn’t survive jumping out the window. Suddenly, it seemed as high as the fifth, or fiftieth, floor.
Years ago, I took my son to New York City. He wanted to go to the Empire State Building. I wasn’t happy about it, but he was too young to go on his own, and I didn’t want to seem like a fraidy cat. I held it together as we waited over an hour in line. I didn’t realize that once you made it up to the beginning of the line, it was only to get on the elevator. Another line awaited you on the Observation Floor. Worse than the lengthy wait on the ground floor, this wait was along a wall of windows. Floor to ceiling windows. A bank of windows that made it seem as if nothing separated you from the sidewalk 86 floors below. I broke out in a sweat. At the end of the line they took a photograph. I never looked at ours; I’m sure that it told a story of a young boy eager to get out on the observation deck and his fearful mother looking about to find a trash can to heave into. He did coerce me on to the open air deck and it wasn’t so bad. Why not? Because there is a tall wall and an even taller fence between me and a freefall.
Sometimes, if sitting in a high balcony seat in a theatre, or near a window in a plane, I will suffer from vertigo, that spinning sensation that some people experience when looking down from on high. Driving over a bridge, if I’m in the right lane, will cause it too. Not one, but three different hospitals in my city have glass elevators that I prefer not to use, lest someone think that they need to direct me to Emergency, or more likely, the Psych Ward. Once I was going to participate in the Mackinac Bridge Walk to see if I could overcome this phobia. It started raining before we got to the start and our adventure was ditched: I was relieved.
So, given this, what would you think that I did today?
No anxiety at all! No concerns that I would fall into the water too far offshore to swim to safety. No thoughts about what would happen if the lines broke. (I realized after I was back on the boat that they didn’t cover this contingency before I was airborne.) I was at maximum height quickly and could see for miles over the Gulf of Mexico and over Estero Bay. I could clearly see the 7 miles of beach that I walked last week and grasp that it is nothing like a straight line from one end to the other. I realized how there are some very tall pines on the island that soar above the palm trees. I could see boats in the three marinas on the island and I could see just how many small, uninhabited islands there are in the estuary.
My only regrets were that I didn’t have a camera with me and that I couldn’t swivel around 365 degrees to see everything. The boat did a good job of changing directions so that I could see different perspectives, but I found myself twisting in the harness to look elsewhere. If I looked at the boat, it appeared to be traveling at a good clip, but it didn’t seem like that up in the air. It was quiet and peaceful and felt like what I imagine it might be like if we could glide like birds.
Would I do it again? You bet!
Epilogue: I spoke to my mom early this evening and told her that I went parasailing. Her response: “Oh, isn’t that fun? Your sister got me to do that about a dozen years ago!” For a moment, I felt a bit less adventurous. But only for a moment. It was fun & I had to overcome, at least temporarily, a deep seeded fear. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try skydiving in the future.
* Do something despite my acrophobia. CHECK
* Go parasailing. CHECK
It was a good day!