The Ladder

Ladder Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Ladder Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There was something about that job, not sure how to describe it. You would think working on a project in the mountains, on a lot that overlooked this amazing vista of forest and blue sky would be great. We always headed up there with such high energy and excitement. And from the minute we walked onto the site, that energy got sucked out of the three of us. It infected our attitudes, our moods and before long we were arguing about everything. The jobsite had been poorly maintained by the first crews, so we were always tripping over things that should not have been like it was. The debris from other crews was frozen under the ice or piled up on the sides. Nothing was as it should have been.

We had been up there for a few weeks off and on. Chuck started out trying to restore order to the site, for safety reasons. Then, he had done a walk through of the project to determine what needed to be done and in what order. One of the first thing he had done, with the owners permission, was to introduce himself to the local inspectors and to respond to their directives. These included instructions on what they wanted fixed. One of the most difficult fixes was to tie down and fasten the original first steps done in the framing. Difficult, because they had to trace back and go behind surface framing to secure the initial first phases of the framing. That meant agility and flexibility in very high places… in very cold weather in the shadows. It also meant Charlie, as he was the most flexible and agile of the 3 of us.

I was up there helping them in the middle of January. Very short, very cold days. We were all dressed appropriately and had the proper safety gear. The assignment of the day was to tie down the framing in the garage, all work done from a 32′ extension ladder.

Chuck gave us the detailed instructions, gathered the tools and readied the supplies. He was standing nearby to assist in anyway he could. Charlie had what he needed strapped to his tool belt, had his safety harness on and headed up the ladder. I was at the foot of the ladder, holding it steady and offering moral support. I was also ready to hand him up what he needed. Charlie made the remark that my holding the ladder was a placebo, but, that he would take it anyway.

Then Chuck and Charlie argued about the problem being encountered and the solutions. It was like the negative energy of the place infected them and stole their normal camaraderie. I would play peacekeeper only to get drug into the argument. Arguments about nothing really. And then Charlie came down, sat down in a heap and pouted. Chuck stomped off to the truck and pouted. Finally, they came together. Chuck, disability and all, went up the ladder to see what Charlie was trying to say. Charlie was mortified that he had let his anger push his dad up a ladder. While up there, Chuck realized what was causing the problem and outlined it to Charlie. They both breathed in, apologized, regrouped and it was time to start over.

And it was in that moment, I realized something profound. The look on Charlie’s face as he started back up the ladder was one of pure terror. He was afraid of heights! I had never noticed or realized this before. But, he was petrified as he took the first few steps up that ladder. And I realized that standing at the base steadying that ladder was so much more than a placebo for him.

The problem was resolved, the work was completed, we were frozen solid when finished and were grateful when we finally loaded up and came back to town. All the way down the mountain we were quiet, lost in our own thoughts. And with every passing mile and the truck heater thawing our frozen blood, the job curse, the tensions of the day, the anger and agitation, fear and frustration melted away.

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