Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.
[Clare Booth Luce]

Speaking of ladders, two rungs up are my limit. No matter what is going through my conscious mind, my knees turn into jello, blood drains from my lips, and my hands start to sweat. I can experience the same reaction while climbing steps that have no backs, seeing through cracks in floors, looking over railings, crossing bridges, looking down stairs that are longer than code allows, and riding escalators.

In the early 1950s, my parents took us to tour New York City. I recall that we climbed iron stairs up among the bells in the spire of a famous church. There were no backs on the steps and I could see bells at every level. Then the bells started to chime. I remember nothing more until I was in a room below with my mother comforting me. She said my fingers had frozen around the railing and it was all they could do to pry them loose and get me down.

During my college years, I’d just started down ten flights of wooden steps on a state park fire tower when my fingers froze around the railing. It was involuntary. One minute I was admiring southern Indiana’s autumn colors and the next, I was immobile. My boyfriend walked one step in front of me and a stranger one step behind to get me to the ground.

When I was an ensign in the Navy, I was deplaning in Charleston, South Carolina. The portable steps were shaky but I gathered all of my courage and forced myself to start down when I caught my heel in the tread, and rolled heels over hat onto the tarmac. I landed in a heap at the feet of a senior officer. I don’t know which hurt worse, my ankle or my pride.

I knew a lady with the same fears who had ridden a mule down a trail into the Grand Canyon. I asked her how she mustered the courage to do that. She replied, “I simply looked between the mule’s ears.”

Last weekend, two friends and I went shopping at a charming mercantile in a town up near Michigan. Wide wooden steps leading to the upper floors were an attractive architectural feature in the post and beam building. The backs of the steps were open. My friends took the elevator and I said I’d meet them up stairs. It was a test. Could I make it? I put one foot on a step, looked between imaginary mule’s ears, and made it to the top floor.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by
every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.

[Eleanor Roosevelt]

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