Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher
 

Little Steps to the Top

It’s only 498 steps.

Earlier this year, I climbed a few steps towards a goal: 498 of them, actually, to the top of the Asinelli Tower in Bologna, Italy. It was something I’d been putting off for 25 years. I’d visited the towers dozens of times since I lived there in 1989, but I’d never climbed to the top. You can see why: They’re tall, and old, built in the 12th century. The only way up is five hundred wooden steps. With only a simple wood railing. The thought always made me dizzy, so I never tried. Everyone said the view from the top was breathtaking; and hundreds of people did it every day. I didn’t lack encouragement.

I lacked perspective.

Climbing hundreds of rickety old stairs with just a thin wooden railing was insane. What if I slipped? What if it got too hard to breathe at the top? What if I got up there and it was cloudy? Lots of reasons kept me comfortably and safely on the ground. But when you visit the towers, you don’t look at the base. You look up. Last October, I found myself there once again, looking up…. … through the lens of my camera. This time, however, I saw something different: A slight change of perspective, only. The towers didn’t look all that big, in the viewfinder. One  of them even leans towards the other, almost as if pointing, to the top. That’s where the best view is: That’s where I needed to go. It was time. When you enter the Asinelli Tower, it’s deceiving. The first dozen steps are solid rock, curving up, with a metal railing. There’s a little booth where you pay a woman to enter. Some people were descending; They smiled assuredly at me. Maybe I had misjudged the stairs all these years? I paid the fee. When I turned the corner, any assurances of the initial solid steps disappeared, confronted with the reality of an age-old climb: The real climb was riskier, scarier, more slippery. I considered turning back yet again: It was only a few dollars. Nobody would know. Just wipe my brow and puff a little, if I met anyone coming up. Out of my eye I could see the woman in the ticket booth watching me. She nodded.

I took a single step.

One step. Then another. Slow and steady. Not rushing. I could see a landing a few stairs up. That’s how to do it, I told myself: Go from landing to landing, a safe place every few steps. If someone is coming up faster, they can pass by. If someone is coming down, I can watch and reassure myself. I even looked over the edge: No bodies down there. It was a good sign. That’s how I made it to the top that day. After all those years of procrastinating, I simply took a few steps at a time. I allowed myself to rest every so often. After a while, I didn’t stop at every landing. I climbed a little easier, a little more certain, not gaining speed, but not stopping either. I was never not scared, but motion managed the fear. I even laughed a few times, amazed at reaching different platforms. When I finally reached the last staircase, I almost gave up. They were really, really old, worn down, sagging, and nearly straight up through the roof. I’d come far enough, my mind tempted, but after I saw a young woman climbing down in high-heeled boots, and I thought: It’s time to see what the world looks like from up there.

Suddenly, I was there!

The view from the top is exhilarating. You see the whole city, and outward for miles in every direction. You see the roads that brought you to the tower. You consider where, on the horizon, you might go next. Within moments, you forget the shaky, uncertain steps it took to climb up there. It’s not whether it was worth it. It’s simply where you belong. Until that moment, I didn’t think of the climb as a matter of survival, but that’s what it was, really: Not because I might have fallen, but because I might never have tried. What if another 25 years passed by? What if I never took the chance to try? It wasn’t just 498 perilous steps to the top of a monument: It was the way we reach any goal. A few steps at a time. Safe landings along the way. It not whether we might slip and fall. It’s whether or not we decide to try. Take it from me. Try.

  • Jeanine Hewitt Lind

    Impressive that you did it. There’s one off the bucket list!

  • “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu

    Well done Matthew and well written…as usual.

    Happy New Year my friend. Best wishes for more successful climbs in 2014.

  • Thanks, Sean! See you at the top this year, too!