Saturday, August 3, 2013

Stairs: Literal, Literary, Metaphorical

I'm afraid of heights. Very afraid.

I know the source of my fear originated from my father's insisting I climb the vented, open stairs of lookout towers in the Ozark Mountains between Joplin, Missouri and Eureka Springs, Arkansas during our spring and fall excursions to see the Dogwoods blooming when I was a child. 

As an adult, summertime presents ample opportunity for me to confront my fears. This summer's trip to Yosemite National Park is no exception. Yosemite is all about climbing and reaching new heights to reach optimal viewing vistas. 

During our trek to Vernal Falls, which requires one to climb a rock staircase of  700 stairs, literal, literary, and metaphorical stairs merged in my mind. 

Langston Hughes uses metaphorical stairs to illustrate the challenges we face in life and as an object lesson a mother teaches her son about pressing on during difficult times. 

"Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes

"Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair."

At times a used my hands to propel myself on up the stairs and crab crawled down a few stairs during the descent. 

Climbing stairs is easier when one has help. My fearless sister-in-law Lani offered encouragement to my granddaughter Kayla. Each time Kayla paused and proclaimed, "I don't think I want to go any further," Lani pointed to the falls and reminded Kayla, "That's where we're going." 

Keeping our eyes on the prize makes the climb more manageable. I didn't see any tacks in the stairs, but they were uneven, varied in height and width. And many were slippery with sand and pebbles. 

We made it to the top of Vernal Falls, but as is often the case, the real payoff was in the journey, both in terms of the view and the sense of accomplishment. 
For Lani, Kayla, my husband Ken, and me, the climb up the Vernal Falls stairs was enough, but since our individual climbs don't always correspond with one another's we left the trek to Nevada Falls to my brother Steve and niece Samantha. 

Sometimes the view from the bottom isn't too bad either. 
Sustaining a long teaching career is much like climbing those stairs. Along the way, I've stumbled and had to crawl and claw my way along the uneven path. We teachers ascend together but not necessarily in unison. We confront the tacks, splinters, torn boards, and bare floors that challenge our ascent and that of our most vulnerable students with faith that even though the profession is no crystal staircase, we won't sit down. We won't quit. We will reach landings and turn corners. The view from within is just too important to miss the climb. 

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