Fear comes in many forms. It also comes at many heights. This famous 1932 photograph shows eleven men—without safety harnesses—taking a lunch break during construction of the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Simply looking at the picture of them leaning in various poses as they casually converse with one another is enough to send shivers up the spine of someone suffering from acrophobia.
I don’t personally have an “irrational fear of heights.” After all, I’ve enjoyed forays into the sky via the Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower and the Space Needle in nearby Seattle. Still, I must confess that when I stand high above the earth on a piece of clear glass or acrylic that I do find it a bit disconcerting. It’s not as if I doubt the building is secure . . . but precisely what clear substance like that is worth trusting our lives to?
In fact, not long ago, a group of people were standing on just such a viewing panel when it began to crack. Two facts, it was new (opened in 2009) and it was on the 103rd floor of the Chicago building. The quaintly named “Ledge” was certified to 10,000 pounds, and it’s difficult to imagine the family standing on it, when it fractured, as exceeding that weight.
Let’s return for a moment to 1932. There’s a lesser known photo, taken the same day as the renowned image. It is even more disturbing. Check this out.
This shot was taken after the men had staged the lunch picture for the press. They were simply resting after eating, before returning to work.
Now, I appreciate rest as much as anyone, and far more than most. But, if I was on that steel girder, 840 feet above the pavement, I would be so hyper vigilant a tranquilizer dart couldn’t put me down.
That picture, frankly, scares me.
Fortunately, C.S. Lewis reminds us that there is nothing wrong with fear. Beyond sometimes protecting us from foolish risk-taking, the fear itself does not determine our reaction to it. In other words, a soldier can rightly be afraid on the battlefield, yet overcome that fear and do something heroic. Common men and women often surprise themselves when they overcome fear they might have thought would cripple them.
C.S. Lewis says it this way. “The act of cowardice is all that matters; the emotion of fear is, in itself, no sin” (The Screwtape Letters).
I’ve learned through the years that there is wisdom in learning about one’s own fears. Sometimes what we learn diminishes the fear. At other times, understanding our fears can prevent us from misattributing our emotions to another source.
For example, you might think you dislike a person who frequently invites you to share your thoughts with a group. When, in actuality, it might merely be your fear of public speaking, or your fear of having your ideas rejected that troubles you. Upon recognizing this, you might even grow to like the other person, seeing how they are confident that you have something of value to offer to the discussion.
Like every other fallen human being, I’m riddled with fears and buried under worries. It is beyond comprehension how God has manifested his love for us in his only begotten Son . . . truly we can cast all of our burdens onto his compassionate and willing shoulders.
In fact, it is during our darkest hours when, assailed by our personal terrors, we lean most upon his strength. Without a doubt, if severe unemployment has forced me to be one of those construction workers nearly a century ago, I would most definitely have been one praying man!
P.S. – Oh, and if anyone is curious about the flask held by the construction worker on the right, I’m sure it only contained water and not some useless form of “liquid courage.”