The Peak and the Precipice

 

Some years ago, I found myself sitting in a window side seat of a bus speeding up a steep mountainside road.  We were heading towards the peaks of Machu Picchu.  I was there as part of a Fulbright Scholarship group, studying Andean and Afro-Peruvian history and culture.  We were in the middle of our five week stay, and, for most of us, this was the highlight of our trip.

As I rode along, several thoughts struck me.  First: I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that I had come a long way from my childhood in a two bedroom apartment in the South Bronx.  I’d often wondered: why was I experiencing such an incredible thing as this, while some of my friends back home could only dream of it?  I thought about the choices they had made in their lives, and I in mine.  I also thought about the strong family support I had.  Many of my friends could not boast about that.  “There but for the grace of God go I….”

I next noted that the road we were on was barely wide enough to fit two buses.  And it was exceptionally curvy.  What was worse, there was no barrier on the outer edge of the road.  I dared not look downward outside the window, but as I looked straight to the side of the bus, I was flabbergasted to find that we were literally climbing so high in the mountain as to touch the clouds….

Then the bus lurched around a sharp curve, and instinctively, I dug my hands into the seat in front of me.  We were going (in my estimation) way too fast for such a steep, curvy, unprotected road.  Then a funny thought hit me.  This reminded me of the dollar cab rides I once took in Barbados, the drivers going helter-skelter through tight, narrow roadways, honking their horns in their irritation and scaring me, a poor American passenger, half to death.  Then I remembered that they drove no differently than the dollar cab drivers in Brooklyn.  Ah…connection and familiarity.  I couldn’t help but laugh….

I was still laughing when I was startled out of my daydream by the honking of a bus on the other side of the road speeding past us, heading downhill at a speed that had to be scaring some other foreigner out of his wits.  It passed us in a blur, and I was just about to cuss the driver when I noticed that my fingers, even with well-groomed fingernails, had dug small cuts into the fabric of the seat in front.  “This is ridiculous,” I thought.  “I did not come here to die on some backwater, lonely….”

Then I did it.  Without thinking, I made the mistake of looking out of the window…and down.  I was astonished at what I saw.  At an incalculable distance from my window sat the train that took us to the base of this mountain.  It looked like a toy.  Between the train and my window was a wooded precipice, almost sheer in its angle of descent.  That took my breath away.  Until I looked even further down, and noticed that I could not see the side of the road reaching outward from the bus.  All I could see was the bottom of our vehicle, and the grass of the steep drop below.  It looked like we were floating over the edge, and I couldn’t fathom how, at the speed we were travelling, we hadn’t already plummeted to our deaths….

I find it odd now that the thought didn’t occur to me until years later: my entire life has been like that bus ride up the mountain.  I’ve spent my life climbing that mountain, negotiating the curves and pratfalls at speeds I’m almost never comfortable with.  Going too slow can be dangerous, but going too fast can be terrifyingly worse.

And so I hold on.  Sometimes painfully so.  And I take the ride.  When I look to see how close I am to the edge, I’m always astonished, and many times fearful.  And I always seem to be much closer to the precipice than to the peak.  Sometimes I’m so tired of being razor-close that I feel almost compelled to just go ahead and go over the edge.  Just let go.  In fact, I know some friends, both at home in the South Bronx and other places, that have made that jump.  They’re so terrified of facing the danger of the climb that they consistently sabotage it.  Some are not terrified of the journey at all.  Worse yet, they’re terrified of what will happen when they finally reach the peak.  Scared of their own success….

So as I sit here today thinking about that bus ride, I remember that often the difference between success and failure is as simple as succumbing to fear and the precipice, or clinging to faith and the promise of the peak.

An equation comes to mind.  Faith + self-awareness = attitude.  It’s the attitude created by these elements that allows one to do anything, overcome any obstacles, ignore any hate, and reach any peak.  It’s attitude that makes you look away from the windows at your sides and forwards to the road ahead, no matter how curvy it may be.

I, like everyone else, have a choice on my journey.  I can look to the precipice, or to the peak.

Though the former often beckons me, I choose the latter.

Which do you choose?

Sound Off!

Broadcast Your Inner Champion

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*