"Now, you have to do it again. Walk back across."
"What? I have to do it again?"
"Yes; this time with your other side facing the abyss. just to make sure you didn't miss something important."
"Oh, G-d, look how far it is; I can't do it."
"Yes you can."
Whose voice is this, calling me "you"? And whose voice is it, answering "I"? Conversations with oneself are mysterious. I fixed my concentration on the walkway that I had just traversed; the outside edge of a
RR trestle, with a 25 foot plunge to the river just inches from where
my feet would be moving.
"Yes, I can," I answered myself. I started walking back across.
The foot-wide ledge along the outside of the tracks was not a highwire, but it was high enough to cause me great anxiety. It was also high enough to kill me if I stumbled and fell. The rusty iron edges of the trestle abutment were just under the water, 25 feet below me.
Of course, a foot-wide path is not physically hard to walk, but if one edge of it is a potentially fatal drop, then a misstep seems much more likely. In fact, the empty space seems to exert a mystical sideways pull, making a faltering step seem more probable.
Why not walk down the middle of the trestle between the tracks? The spaces between the ties gave a view straight down to the water, but that wouldn't be so bad. But this was one of those times when I got the urge to probe my limits, to try to overcome my fears, so as I had been strolling along the tracks and arrived at the trestle, it had occurred to me that I was going to make myself walk the edge, just to prove that I could.
But the contradiction about walking such a path is that the danger must be completely ignored, even while it is acknowledged. The artist Dali described "the exquisite anguish of the empty void." This is what attracts me to, and at the same time repels me from, heights. This "exquisite anguish" is the very thing that I cannot allow myself to appreciate, if I am to successfully negotiate this walk before me.
So that is what I did; I ignored it completely, as I walked the 100 feet of the trestle, along the outside of the rails just inches from the edge. The spaces between the ties along the edge were filled with blocks of wood, making the walkway a flat, though uneven surface. As I walked along it, I thought of nothing but carefully placing my feet with each step, until I was safely across. Only then did I allow myself to look back and contemplate what I had just traversed.
But after making the walk, to my dismay it occurred to me that I was going to make myself do it again, back the other way. Maybe it would be possible, I was thinking, to "unlearn" the irrational vertigo that attacks me in such places; to allow myself more freedom to enjoy the expansive vista, instead of shrinking from it.
No; I discovered that that would not be possible. It was not any easier the second time; once again I had to clamp on the mental "blinders", as I carefully traversed the ledge. I concentrated on each step, and thought of nothing else.
But I did it; I didn't faint, stumble, or get sucked wildly sideways by a mystic force. It was all over, sooner than I expected, and I stepped with relief onto the solid ground.
Click below to leave a comment. ⬇