• Steve Berlack

The Peak & The Precipice

Updated: May 2, 2019

Some years ago, I found myself sitting in a window side seat of a bus

speeding up a steep mountainside road. We were heading towards the

peaks of Machu Picchu. I was there as part of a Fulbright Scholarship

group, studying Andean and Afro-Peruvian history and culture. We were

in the middle of our five week stay, and, for most of us, this was the

highlight of our trip.

As I rode along, several thoughts struck me. First: I couldn’t help but

reflect on the fact that I had come a long way from my childhood in a two

bedroom apartment in the South Bronx. I’d often wondered: why was I

experiencing such an incredible thing as this, while some of my friends

back home could only dream of it? I thought about the choices they had

made in their lives, and I in mine. I also thought about the strong family

support I had. Many of my friends could not boast about that. “There but

for the grace of God go I....”

I next noted that the road we were on was barely wide enough to fit

two buses. And it was exceptionally curvy. What was worse, there was

no barrier on the outer edge of the road. I dared not look downward

outside the window, but as I looked straight to the side of the bus, I

was flabbergasted to find that we were literally climbing so high on the

mountain as to touch the clouds....

Then the bus lurched around a sharp curve, and instinctively, I dug my

hands into the seat in front of me. We were going (in my estimation) way

too fast for such a steep, curvy, unprotected road. Then a funny thought

hit me. This reminded me of the dollar cab rides I once took in Barbados,

the drivers going helter-skelter through tight, narrow roadways, honking

their horns in their irritation and scaring me, a poor American passenger,

half to death. Then I remembered that they drove no differently than the

dollar cab drivers in Brooklyn. Ah, connection and familiarity. I couldn’t

help but laugh.

I was still laughing when I was startled out of my daydream by the honking

of a bus on the other side of the road speeding past us, heading downhill

at a speed that had to be scaring some other foreigner out of his wits. It

passed us in a blur, and I was just about to cuss the driver when I noticed

that my fingers, even with well-groomed fingernails, had dug small cuts

into the fabric of the seat in front. “This is ridiculous,” I thought. “I did

not come here to die on some backwater, lonely....”

Then I did it. Without thinking, I made the mistake of looking out of the

window, and down. I was astonished at what I saw. At an incalculable

distance from my window sat the train that took us to the base of this

mountain. It looked like a toy. Between the train and my window was a

wooded precipice, almost sheer in its angle of descent. That took my breath

away, until I looked even further down, and noticed that I could not see

the side of the road reaching outward from the bus. All I could see was the

bottom of our vehicle, and the grass of the steep drop below. It looked like

we were floating over the edge, and I couldn’t fathom how, at the speed we

were travelling, we hadn’t already plummeted to our deaths.

I find it odd now that the thought didn’t occur to me until years later:

my entire life has been like that bus ride up the mountain. I’ve spent my

life climbing that mountain, negotiating the curves and pratfalls at speeds

I’m almost never comfortable with. Going too slow can be dangerous, but

going too fast can be terrifyingly worse.

And so I hold on. Sometimes painfully so. And I take the ride. When I

look to see how close I am to the edge, I’m always astonished, and many

times fearful. And I always seem to be much closer to the precipice than

to the peak. Sometimes I’m so tired of being razor-close that I feel almost

compelled to just go ahead and go over the edge. Just let go. In fact, I know

some friends, both at home in the South Bronx and other places, that have

made that jump. They’re so terrified of facing the danger of the climb

that they consistently sabotage it. Worse yet, they’re terrified of what will

happen when they finally reach the peak. Scared of their own success.

So as I sit here today thinking about that bus ride, I remember that often

the difference between success and failure is as simple as succumbing to

fear and the precipice, or clinging to faith and the promise of the peak.

An equation comes to mind. Faith + self-awareness = attitude. It’s the

attitude created by these elements that allows one to do anything, overcome

any obstacles, ignore any hate, and reach any peak. It’s attitude that makes

you look away from the windows at your sides and forward to the road

ahead, no matter how curvy it may be.

I, like everyone else, have a choice to make on my journey. I can look to

the precipice, or to the peak.

Though the former often beckons me, I choose the latter.

Which do you choose?

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