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?