The call of the void


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I am afraid of heights. There are probably a million psychotherapists out there that can explain what is wrong with me, but I can save them the trouble because the reason people are scared of heights is because they do not want to die.

True, there are many ways to die and falling from high places is just one of them, but to those who are scoffing right now I would like to point out that it is, in fact, on the list.

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I bring this up because this weekend my family was at Malad Gorge State Park. The Malad is a tributary of the Snake River, and the park is just a few miles from where Evel Kneivel tried to fly from rim to rim on his rocket motorcycle.

“Malad” has no translation, but “malade” means sick (like in crazy) in French, and “mal” means bad in Spanish. Neither one inspires a lot of confidence. In America it means you stand on a narrow bridge looking down 250 feet to see the Devil’s Punchbowl.

This is the view from the foot bridge.

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This is the Devil’s Punchbowl.

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It was on the bridge that I thanked the good Lord for putting me on ships. People with a fear of heights like to be in places where, if you fall off, you will not die and ships fit that description nicely. When we are in dangerously high places where a fall would be fatal, on the other hand, we/they often talk about experiencing the “fear of the leap” or “the call of the void.”

“Funny thing about a fear of heights, though: It’s not just about heights. At root, it’s a fear of losing control. For some, it’s what the French call “l’appelle du vide” — the call of the void; the feeling that you’re suppressing an irresistible, irrational compulsion to leap over the edge. For others, it’s simply a fear of being just one misstep away from the abyss.”
(From “Here’s What It Feels Like to Cliff-Dive With a Paralyzing Fear of Heights” by Ben Thomas)

We fear that a demon will possess us at the precise moment we are looking over the railing and fling us off, or that we will slip on gravel when we take that last, fateful step toward the edge as we try to get a better view.

As I stood there looking at the Devil’s Punchbowl, standing 250 feet over a river that means “bad” or “sick like in crazy”, near a place where a guy named “Evel” became famous, I realized that (a) I had made the right career choice, and (b) it was time to get the heck off that bridge.

My seven year old daughter’s only concern while we were hovering over the abyss, by the way, was that I was squeezing her hand too tightly. Apparently she does not suffer from the same affliction.

So thank you, Lord, for putting me on ships. It was where I belonged.

Not that they don’t come with their own set of problems.

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