Wednesday... February 13, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 155
Wall of Fear...Wall
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
It was my five-year-old
grandson's "test of manhood."
At least, I'd like to believe
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
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
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."
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
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.
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
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?
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?
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
Go To Feb 12--No Security At Homeland