The VigilanceVoice
Wednesday... February 13, 2002
—Ground Zero Plus 155

 Wall of Fear...Wall of Terror
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, Feb 13-- I love the "Wall of Terror!"   It forces out fear, intimidation and complacency.  It creates courage, conviction and action.
        The Wall of Terror isn't in Afghanistan.  
        It's at Chelsea Pier in New York City.
        The Wall stands about thirty-feet high, equal to a three-story apartment building.  
        It's designed to build character, to thwart Terror, to suffocate fear, to conquer intimidation.
        It was my five-year-old grandson's "test of manhood."
       At least, I'd like to believe that.
       Matt isn't a big, thick kid, destined to be the block bully.   He's small-boned, thin, somewhat fragile physically, but extremely strong mentally.  He has an inviolable will--fighting to make his point--unwilling to surrender it without a fierce battle, and then, he doesn't give up.  When you least expect it he comes back for more, parrying with you to regain the ground you thought he lost.
       He's not physically or socially gregarious.  He likes to spend time with his imagination thinking about things, working out problems by building towns and structures with his toys, putting puzzles together, arranging his Thomas Train set so that has a new design each time Thomas Train Town rises from the rubble of his toy chest.
       His parents put him in a soccer class last year at Chelsea Pier Field House.   He didn't particularly take to the pushing and shoving to command the ball.  He's not a "contact sport" kid.  And,  he wasn't thrilled about making a goal.  Conversely, he would sit on the sidelines until pushed and jostled by parents and grandparents to get out "in the thick of it."  He wasn't alone.  Other kids tried "sit-in" protestations, but like Matt, they were forced to learn the rudiments of a team sport.
      Sports teaches a kid a lot--teamwork, competition, self-esteem.  Challenging the self is the key to it.  Learning you can do what you didn't think you could stretches the confidence, builds self-worth.  Matt wanted none of that from soccer.   He toughed it out--especially sticking to his guns about not wanting to go, not wanting to be there, and complaining all the way going and coming home.  When it was over, there was no way he was going to be re-enrolled.   He wasn't a duck to soccer water.
      After the soccer battle, I didn't see sports in Matt's future.   Then came the Wall.  I underestimated the kid.
     Matt saw kids climbing the Wall one day and told his mother and grandmother he'd like to try it.   Quickly, they enrolled him in rock climbing--novice class.
      I wondered how a five-year-old Thomas Train Architect would take climbing a thirty-foot wall, hanging high above the ground, alone, secured by just a protrusion of rock under his toes, his fingertips groping blindly above him to find the next handhold?  
      When I was sixteen I climbed.   It was the scariest feeling I ever experienced, hanging on the ledge of a rock 700 feet above the ground--below nothing but jagged shards of granite with no bounce.    I remember fighting my fear, gasping deep breathes, trusting just my fingertips and toes to shove me out from the rock so the pressure of my body was absorbed by the rock.  "Never hug the rock," I was told, "because then all your weight will be forced straight down.  Push away with your feet and fingers.  Let your weight go to the rock, or you'll drop like one."
        Before Matt took the class I told him how I was afraid when I first climbed.    I told him about not looking down.  About pushing away from the rock.    I told him how I felt when I overcame my fear--that feeling of elation and exhilaration when you reach the top.  
       I had forgotten that sensation of conquest until Matt took the climbing class.   I remember the power of the rock when I climbed in the 60's.  My rock was a giant finger of granite carved half the height of the World Trade Center Towers, challenging anyone to scale its face if they had the guts, the ropes and the ability to control their bowels.     
      Matt didn't say much when he went to meet his Wall of Fear.   Earlier, I talked to him about what to expect.   I told him about my "fear" the first time I climbed.   I didn't make it up.  I was frightened on the inside but hid it on the outside.  Matt seemed very interested in my fear, and how I fought to overcome it.   "How scared were you, G-Pa?"
      "Very scared!'  I replied.  "But only at first.  My friends weren't afraid. They had all climbed.   They had faced the Wall of Fear.  They knew fear was worrying about things before they happened.  I knew if they weren't afraid then I didn't need to be.   They told me fear was my enemy.  The rock, they said, would teach me to not be afraid.  It would teach me to trust it.   If I didn't, they said I'd probably fall.  But they would catch me with the rope tied around my waist.   But, they warned, I would have to fall a while before they stopped me because they couldn't break my fall too fast.  It might hurt my back. And that I didn't need to be afraid if I did fall."
        "That sounds really scary, G-Pa.  You had to really trust your friends and the rock."
       "I did, Matt. And after the first time I climbed, I was okay.  I learned to not be afraid.  So, when you feel afraid, trust the rock Matt.  Trust your teacher who is holding onto the rope.  Okay?"
       "Okay, G-Pa!"
       I felt a kinship to my grandson's small frame.  I grew up a skinny kid.  In high school I was 6-4 and weighed around 150 pounds. (I'm 100 Plus pounds more today). People called me "spider legs" and "slim."  The nicknames bothered me. I didn't look a football player or have the big chest and arms and thick legs of the athlete.  I was embarrassed at being thin.  I wore long sleeved shirts because I didn't want anyone to see my "skinny" arms.  I was intimidated by the "big guys" and sent in my $1.00 for  to Charles Atlas.  He ran an ad on the back of comic books.  It showed a skinny guy getting sand kicked in his face at the beach and being unable to do anything about it.  Until, that is, he got his Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension Training Program.
         I did the exercises.  I stood in the doorway and shoved my knuckles against the frame until the veins popped around my neck.   I tightened my stomach and flexed.   I was bound and determined to get those guys who "kicked sand in my face."
         That all changed when I joined the Marine Corps.  In three-months of training at Boot Camp, I gained thirty pounds.  My muscles showed dimension, my confidence expanded.  I knew I was tough.  I had become "strong."  But, it took twenty-one years for that to happen.   The years prior, I felt like a toothpick for a bully's teeth.  I didn't want that for Matt.  I wanted him to know he could conquer mountains, and the Wall was a sure way to achieve that--if he was willing to climb it. 
         Eventually, I knew Matt could develop physically.  I had.   But I also knew it was mental not physical strength that truly counted in a competitive world.   Courage knew no size.  Davids could conquer Goliaths if they faced their fear, if they believed and trusted in the universe rather than cowered from it.  I hadn't learned that vital lesson until I joined the Marine Corps.  We were trained to trust each other in the face of death.  I wanted Matt to learn early that "dynamite comes in small packages."  I didn't want him to suffer the intimidation I had gone through as a kid.
         I looked at the Wall as Matt's "boot camp of courage".   It was his test of "manhood," or at least one of them.  I wondered how he would do, but I didn't worry.  I knew he was tough-minded and also knew rock climbing is about testing the self, not others.   You prove yourself to yourself when you hang above the ground, fingertips groping up, toes prehensiled to a shard of rock below you.  You learn miles of achievement come in inches in rock climbing.  Moving up a little at time is its own victory.  Up, not down, is the key.   And, there is the top--the conquest of courage over fear, of conviction dominating intimidation, and action replacing complacency.  I figured if every child were to climb a rock and enjoy the elation at the top, Terrorism would scurry to find other victims, for the children would have courage that could not be contaminated.  Their wills would become granite; they could scale the rocks of life with a grin.
         On the first day of climbing, I nervously waited to see how Matt would react. Would he resist?  Would he not want to climb?  Would he start and then bail as the ground grew small below him?  Would he look down too long?  Would he hug the rock?
         There were only four in the class, all Matt's age.  Some were bigger, none were smaller.  I noted one stocky kid--a future football player for sure--and wondered if would race up the Wall without a bat of an eye, leaving Matt in the dust.
         Then I banished that thought.   I would accept whatever.  Matt was strong mentally.  The muscles in his mind, and will were sewn with steel determination--if and only if he took to the challenge.  Would he?  Would the Wall become his Marine Corps, his Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension Training, his Anti-Terrorism Of The Self School? 
         He harnessed up.  I looked down and double checked my digital camera settings.  I wanted to get good shots, and didn't want the batteries to wimp out on me during a critical shot.  When I looked up again I couldn't see  Matt.   Had he "chickened out?"   Had he decided at the last minute to bail?
        Standing on the mezzanine above the Wall, I searched below for sight of him.  Nothing.
        Then I heard his mother exclaim:  "Wow, look at Matt go!"
        I looked up.  There was Matt scaling the wall, one handhold at a time.  He had a big smile on his face.  The stocky boy was below him, telling the instructor he was "afraid" and wanted to come down.   Matt seemed to savor the power of height.  He kept on, inching up until he reached the top, coached by the trainer who had him belayed from below, ready at any moment to stop any fall.
         My own fears, intimidations and complacencies about Matt's courage evaporated.  I felt my chest puff.   The kid was King of the Rock.   He was in his environment, man versus nature, rising above the Terrors of the earth, working his way up to the Eagle's Nest where below others dare to go.
        I knew the feeling.
        It was a Vigilant feeling, one that I knew made Matt no longer a "little man" but a "big man."
       He faced Terror and won.  
       Semper Vigilantes, I said under my breath as Matt waved at us from the top of the Wall. Semper Vigilantes!

     Go To Feb 12--No Security At Homeland Security  

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