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The Wall

The Wall

from the Curt Iles short story collection,  Stories from the Creekbank. 

 

…By my God have I leaped over a wall.

-Psalms 18:29

 

As I stood in the shadow of the twelve-foot wall, sweat popped out on my forehead. In my ears rang the screaming chants of more than fifty teenagers:

 

“Curt!” “Curt!” “Curt!”

 I knew I was in a bind. There was no graceful way to avoid going over the wall. What had started out as an enjoyable tour of the campgrounds had turned into a living nightmare for me! In front of this large group of teenagers and their adult leaders, I knew I couldn’t back down.

As we’d approached the wall on our adventure recreation course, Billy Gibbs had loudly announced, “Don’t you all want to see our new camp manager go over the wall?” With that the chant began . . . I felt like a scared challenger in the boxing ring with a heavyweight champion. (Once when Joe Louis was preparing to fight a boxer who was prone to evade contact instead of fight, Louis stated, “He can run but he can’t hide.”)

Well, I could run . . . and for a brief instant I even considered it, but I couldn’t hide. I mean I’m the camp manager—I couldn’t embarrass myself in front of these people. You see, my problem was this—I’m scared of high places. They call it “Acrophobia” and I’ve got a good dose of it. If you get me above the third rung on a ladder, my legs get wobbly. I try my best to stay right down on solid earth. I always think of the preacher who was scared of heights, and especially airplanes, who justified this fear with Scripture: “And lo, I am with you always.”

But here I was standing at the wall, . . . and I had no Scripture to excuse myself. I knew I was going over whether I was willing to or not. So I did what I could to make the best of a bad situation. Nearby stood our youth director, Kevin Willis. So I called my best shot. “If Kevin will go up first, I’ll go next.”

As I looked at Kevin, a big robust forester weighing more than 220 pounds, I felt better about going over the wall. I knew how strong Kevin was. (I’d been bear-hugged enough by him at church to know his strength.) I had faith Kevin wouldn’t drop me on my trip over the wall.

So we all gathered around and boosted Kevin up the wall. As I helped shove, the sound of Kevin’s tennis shoes sliding against the wooden wall above my head reminded me of how high twelve feet really is.

Then Kevin was straddling the top of the wall. Now it was my turn. I took my wristwatch off . . . I thought about telling someone to give it to my wife if I didn’t make it. Then I thought better and put it in the pocket of my jeans.

With a surge they pushed me up. Kevin grasped my right wrist in a strong vise-like grip and pulled me upwards. With my left hand I pulled myself up onto the top of the wall. It was definitely too late to turn back now.

The height was dizzying, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. And in place of the knot of fear in my stomach, a strong jolt of adrenaline told me: “You’ve done it! You’re on the wall!” A feeling of accomplishment burned in my heart—the same heart that was beating wildly due to the fear, exhilaration, and the physical effort required to get on top of the wall.

But I was quickly jolted back to reality by the sound of yelling down on the ground:

“Who’s next to volunteer?”

To my amazement, the first volunteer (I wouldn’t call Kevin or myself “volunteers”) was the only person I knew more afraid of heights than me. There standing at the bottom, arms raised to be pulled up, was my 11-year-old son, Clay. I couldn’t believe he was willing to do this. He hated high places worse than me.

They quickly pushed Clay up. I’ll always remember how tightly I grabbed his wrist when he came up. Right behind him came his younger brother, Clint. After these two, a whole host of squealing, giggling, and squirming teenagers came over the wall. Kevin and I carefully helped each one up and over.

As I climbed down the wall, it was a special feeling to have accomplished something so difficult for me. As I looked at the wall, it no longer seemed as high as it once did. In the past it had loomed as large as Mount Everest. Once scaled, it was reduced in my mind to its actual size.

Then I stopped to think about the spiritual lessons of the wall. Many of life’s problems look insurmountable from ground level. Only when we attack them, and succeed, do we then realize the problem was not as big as we’d made it look in our mind.

Just as the wall represents life’s problems, those who boosted me over the wall remind me of people who help us in life. None of us can make it in life without the assistance of friends. I am so thankful for the many friends who’ve “boosted me” when I needed it.

I trusted Kevin Willis, partly because of how strong he was, but mainly because he was my friend. To make it in life, we must trust and depend on others. As my mom always said, “You can’t have too many friends.” None of us can make it on our own.

Then my sons had trusted me—I was their father. Being up there above them, they knew my grip was sure and firm. Nothing could happen to them while in their father’s hands. Isn’t that a beautiful picture of just how our Heavenly Father is? When we are in His hands, we need not worry about being dropped. Wherever we go, and regardless of what happens to us, we are safely held by Him.

 

And Jesus said, “. . . No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”

-John 10:29

 

 

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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