“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.”— 2 Samuel 22:33
Zugspitze at 2,962 meters (9,843 ft)
Fear is something we all deal with at different levels and times in our lives. The thing about fear is that like a nightmare, it exists for a limited time, and only while we sleep. Once we decide to awaken from it, it no longer has power over us. Overcoming something we fear takes one act of faith on our part. If we are conscious in the moment of the fear, we can acknowledge it’s scary, but decide in spite of the fear, to do it. Overcoming a fear doesn’t mean you don’t feel fear in the moment. It means you are acting “as if” you don’t fear it. You are doing what you would do if you didn’t fear.
I have a fear of heights.
Several years ago I was thumbing through travel books, in preparation for a trip to Bavaria, the southern region of Germany. I stumbled upon a photo that intrigued me. It was of the tallest peak in Germany, the Zugspitze, some 9,843 ft above sea level. The photo showed a golden cross, which marks the zenith of the mountain, with a few people sitting near the cross. Since the photo was a close-up, it didn’t include perspective of the surroundings. I “assumed” it was a simple enough photo opportunity.
Three months later, it was October, and there I was in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, having taken the trip with my boyfriend whom I was dating for over a year at the time. We took the cogwheel train up to Eibsee, where we transferred to a tram to take us up to the observation deck. There we had a 360-degree view of the majestic vista, which took my breath away. The visibility on this cold sunny day could not have been more perfect. I was able to soak in the peaks from neighboring Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, some 150 miles away. Staring in the direction of the sun, it was difficult to see where the sky ended and where the mountains peaked. The clouds and the snowy mountain peaks seemed to melt right into each other, projecting an endless mirage of white ruggedness.
Though it was all so breath taking, my eyes were busily wandering in search of what I saw in the travel book. Where, oh where, is the actual Zugspitze peak? The one I traveled these thousands of miles to see?
And there, at a distance, like the unveiling of a rare and precious work of art, where reverence demands we stand in awe, was the golden cross— Glistening from the sun and miles of powdery snow casting their reflections. The silent reverence was interrupted by my internal stirrings— I was everything but still. Everything in me was clamoring to get close to the mountain.
On the observation deck, I was as close to the Zugspitze as I was going to get, unless I got onto the mountain itself. I approached the edge of the deck in search of the way to the Zugspitze, only to find the deck ended with no way to reach the mountain. The only way to get to it was to climb it. It was a very steep climb. To fall while making such an attempt, would likely kill someone. But at that moment, my adrenalin was pumping, and my thoughts were fixated on one thought only: I didn’t travel thousands of miles to just be a spectator. And yet I was torn, because as much as I wanted to venture onto it, I was simultaneously terrified of heights.
I looked at my boyfriend, and with trepidation asked, “Are you game? How about it? Come with me?”
“Not a chance!”
“But you’re not afraid of heights! I am! Come with me please?!”
He held his ground. I recall feeling let down, disappointed, and thinking, What a woos! Here I am the one that’s scared of heights, and I’m willing to overcome that to actually climb the Zugspitze. I was all alone on this one.
I sensed he thought I’d refrain if he didn’t accompany me. Instead, I was agitated with him, and decided to go in spite of him. At the time I thought he was being unsupportive. Now I realize he was justifiably afraid.
Though my spirit was saying, “Do it!” my fear was saying “No!” I couldn’t ignore the tug of war going on inside me. To decide I asked myself: How will I feel when I return from this trip, knowing I was this close to the Zugspitze and I didn’t climb it?
I’ll feel disappointed in myself. I’ll regret it.
With that, I pushed forward and didn’t second-guess myself from that point on.
I walked the entire observation deck a couple of times, in search of a sign or indication how to access the Zugspitze. There’s got to be a way to get to it. Then I noticed a man emerging from an inconspicuous staircase, which had a bar limiting access to it, and a sign which read “Gesperrte, Closed…..”
I ducked under the sign and began the icy trek. I had on robust boots with good tread, yet I took my time. Quickly I found myself needing to hang onto the metal stakes driven into the rock, to keep me from slipping. Before I knew it, I was face to face with the steep wall of the Zugspitze, and there was a vertical ladder with rungs fastened into the side of the mountain.
Don’t look down, I kept repeating, don’t look down. God, please keep me safe. I kept my internal dialogue very upbeat and supportive.
You can do it! Come on! Every muscle in my body was contracted, as I put one foot ahead of the other. Staring straight ahead at the mountain, I never looked down, other than to look at the immediate proximity of where my feet and hands were touching. I removed my gloves in order to grip the ladder more confidently. I didn’t mind the cold metal and blistery winds, I wanted a strong grip.
Slowly, one footstep and one hand movement at a time, all my moves became premeditated. It felt like an eternity, but I made it to the top. There at the zenith were others who also braved the steep climb. And then there were the rest of the hundreds, who were observing us from the observation deck. It didn’t escape me that he was one of them, while I was on the mountain by myself.
The relationship’s health leading up to the trip was already on shaky ground. I had grown to feel increasingly isolated from him, due to his emotional distance. On this day, the symbolism of me alone on the Zugspitze, did not escape me. The isolation increased as I noticed couples who took the climb together.
I was resigned that the relationship was what it was, and I wasn’t going to allow that to rob me of my joy this moment. So I savored every second up there. The feel of the cold wind on my face, was softened by the sun’s warmth, while the silence of the mountaintop mesmerized me. Private awestruck thoughts were reinforced with visual panoramic indulgences.
When it was time to head back down, my heart raced again. Taking the steep ladder down, proved harder than initially climbing up.
Thank God I made it back safely. When I look back on this day, it was surreal. Despite my fear of heights, I felt empowered, confident, and sure of my footing. When we make up our minds, and focus on a desired outcome, we can walk through the fear, and be forever changed by it.
I moved away from fear, and I moved away from relationship complacency. On our return from the trip, I ended this lonely relationship, and never looked back.
Copyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.