Standing in the Sky

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I like to think I’m not scared of many things. I was never arachnophobic; I didn’t cower from monsters in the dark. As a child, I hiked up tall mountains in Big Bend National Park and got stuck for an hour on the top of a Ferris wheel over Lake Geneva in Switzerland. However, as adolescence crept up on me with its tidal wave of insecurities and doubt, I started having dreams of falling and developed a fear of heights. I nearly fainted on the second level of the Eiffel Tower when I was twelve and I found myself clutching my stepsister’s hand like it was my only tether to life when we hiked around a tiny canyon in Big Bend.
In June 2010, my mother and I took a backpacking trip through Italy, Hungary and Croatia. On our first full day in Florence, we came upon the Campanile bell tower, and my mother insisted that we climb it. I was hesitant to do so; looking up, I only saw the stripes and architectural design that created the optical illusion of an endless tower merging with the sky.
She started up the dark, narrow steps first, and I reluctantly followed. Every so often there would be a tiny glassless window in the wall, and I would peer through it, judging how high up we were by how Lilliputian the people below looked. The Campanile is comprised of five levels, and every time I made it to one, I collapsed on the cold stone near a lookout to write a journal entry or catch my breath. With each level, I considered going back down, knowing that however bad that particular level was, the top would be worse.
I climbed higher and higher. I could hear church bells in the distance as my knees turned to jelly and I groped at the slippery walls for support. I told myself that if I felt my throat constricting or any lightheadedness, I would ignore it until my newfound drive for finishing the task before me took precedent.
When I stepped out onto the narrow wraparound observation deck, I clutched the rail, my eyes closed tightly. I could feel the wind whipping my hair around my head and my cheeks getting rosy from the sunlight. I felt my mother’s hand on my arm, and I opened my eyes.
What lay before me was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. I could see all of Florence in every direction, and countryside beyond. Cautiously I walked around, making an effort to look up instead of down since the ground far below was visible through the floor of the deck. I felt like I was standing in the sky.
I wondered how many people had climbed those same steps, and then how many people with a similar phobia had made it to the top. 414 steps, 288 feet, five levels, seven bells, and I had climbed it on my own. Looking out over the whole city of Florence and drinking in the beauty sent waves of gratitude and a sense of accomplishment flowing through me. It proved that if I set my mind to it, I can defeat even my greatest fears.





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