Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.


Independence Day, 2001. One of my cousins was in town, and we were headed on a trip to New York City. Less than a week earlier, one of my other cousins had died. I was in bed when I heard my mother bawling and my sister shouting, “It’s not true.” My father was supposed to come back on a flight that night, and I thought the plane had crashed. I paced about in my room for a good twenty minutes, not wanting to face whatever reality lay at the other end of the door.

It was necessary to overcome that fear of reality, and the trip to New York was an opportunity to conquer another one. Since childhood, I had been afraid of heights, but I had started to overcome it. A trip to the tallest building in New York City, once the tallest in the world, would be an opportunity to see how far I had come.

When we got off the elevator, I walked over to the glass. I hesitated before leaning against it. I had to remind myself that the building was sturdy. Eight years earlier, terrorists had tried unsuccessfully to bomb it. If the building could withstand that, surely it could handle me leaning against the glass. Looking down at the city was one of the most amazing views I had seen. Not satisfied with this test of courage, I went up the staircase to the top of the building. The wind was blowing heavily, but I got a nice view of the top of the sister tower before heading back down.

After September 11, 2001, this country was forced to face to a new set of fears. Those who have stopped flying on planes, going up tall buildings, and leaving the house may feel safer, but they have also sacrificed a rich set of experiences. In Wiley Miller’s comics about Homer, the reluctant soul, most of Homer’s lives are short but eventful. Like Catch-22‘s Yossarian, who wants to “live forever or die in the process,” Homer devotes one of his lives to living for as long as possible. He spends that life under a tree doing absolutely nothing. While this may be have been his longest life, it is also the most boring. I’m glad I haven’t let my fears turn my life into a monotonous bore.


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