The Lesser of Two Evils

The climb to the top was nerve-wracking.  I ascended clumsily, the equipment bag slung over my shoulder, searching for the right place to position my feet and hands, slowly passing one level after the other until finally I reached the plateau on top…of the construction scaffold.  We were working in a rubber factory, installing a fire and burglar alarm.  The emergency hatches at the top of the new building had to have automatic openers installed so they would open to vent poisonous gases out of the work area in the event of a fire or explosion.  That’s how the two of us came to be standing on the top of nine sections of scaffold, some sixty feet above the pit from which this precarious structure arose.  It was obvious to me that this was a poor position to be in.  Besides that, the scaffolding trembled with every move I made, obviously about to collapse at any moment.  In short, I was not happy to be here.

Fortunately, neither was I needed there, so my co-worker suggested that I could install the runs of signal wire which needed to span one long wall of the same building, while he finished up here.  I happily descended, one hand and foot after the other, gingerly moving downward toward safety, and a much more desirable job.  Or, so I thought.

The wall beam, called a “girt”, along which I would run the signal wire for the alarm system, was just over twenty feet above the floor, so I went out to the truck to take the extension ladder off the top rack.  It was a two section wooden ladder with large rubber feet which were self-leveling.  I had worked off this ladder many times and wasn’t worried at all about the height.  After all, nothing could be as bad as being up in the air sixty feet.  And, I had the wall right beside me, so what was there to be concerned about?

About halfway along the wall, there was an upright beam, which I needed to work around.  It was rather large, so I leaned away from the ladder to get my arms around it and pass the wire behind it.  That’s when it happened.  The ladder’s rubber feet lost their grip on the dusty concrete floor and the extended portable stairway slid out from under my feet so quickly that it was clattering to the surface below me before I understood what had happened.  My arms had been around the upright beam, and I quickly tried to grip it to keep from following the ladder the twenty feet to the hard landing awaiting me below.  I was only partly successful, as I slid along the upright steel structure, scraping my biceps and forearms on the way down.  After slipping about four or five feet, I caught an angled support going off to another lateral wall girt and stopped, hanging there something about ten feet off the floor, yelling  for help at the top of my lungs.  None was forthcoming.  My buddy at the top of the scaffold called to me, urging me to drop on down, but the ladder was on the floor below me and I wasn’t happy about that option.  Nevertheless, a few more moments of dangling from the beam support made it clear that I didn’t have the strength to hang here until help arrived, so I dropped, barely missing the ladder and falling to the hard concrete floor, in pain from the scrapes and subsequent fall, but more importantly to me, seriously humiliated by the entire situation.

Moments later, as I doctored my scrapes at the truck, my co-worker emerged from the building, perfectly happy to have completed his job without a hint of a mishap.  With his help, we completed the wiring job in short order and headed for the shop, with him smiling all the way.  Obviously, I had to explain the whole situation again later to my boss at the office, as he grinned like a Cheshire Cat at the incongruity of it all.  “So you were afraid of the height and took the easy job, only to get hurt, eh?  That’ll teach you!”

Life, it seems, just like that job, quite often delivers up just the opposite of what we expect.  We make choices based on what we believe we know to be true, but find that the path we have chosen is fraught with pitfalls unforeseen.  Who would have thought that a ladder leaned up against a wall would be more dangerous than sixty feet of steel pipe and wood planks sticking straight up in the air?  I certainly didn’t before that day, but I have thought about it many times since.

When we’re faced with decisions, the ease with which the job is to be completed is a poor factor on which to base our choice.  We need to face our fears, our lack of discipline (mental or otherwise), and push ahead.  Sure, we take precautions and avoid unnecessary risks, but the easy route is frequently more perilous than the difficult.  And often, not nearly as rewarding.  I have realized many times over my life that the hardest won victories are the ones I most love to call to memory.  Pride in a job well done is one thing; recalling a difficult conquest that we could have wriggled out of is sweet success!

Push yourself outside of that snug little box in which you feel safe!  You’ll be amazed at the results.  Yeah, failure is an option, but so is success.  I don’t want to get to the winter of my days, only to look back at the easy road traveled in the spring and summer, and wish that the route had led through more daring territory. 

I’m pretty sure that I’ve got a few more climbs to the top of the scaffold left in me.  How about you?  We’ll see what the view is like when we get there together, okay?

“This is no time for ease and comfort.  It is time to dare and endure.”
(Winston Churchhill~British statesman and orator~1864-1965)

2 thoughts on “The Lesser of Two Evils

  1. I don’t like ladders. The last time I climbed one I ended up with broken teeth being removed from lip. Thank goodness I only fell 12 feet or so. Whose to say that you wouldn’t have fallen from the scaffolding. Maybe you made the right decision after all.

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