Moving On Up

Moving On Up!
Epiphany 39

The cold weather that has invaded the United States over the past month led to an epiphany of my own. My first grade teacher might have been wrong when she said it takes two to have an argument. Her wisdom was given to two young energetic lads bickering over who should go first at the water fountain. She explained to them that there was no lack of water and that whether one was first or second, they would have their thirst quenched and receive the exact same water that the other did. Then, to emphasize her point, she had them go to the end of the line. One of the boys kept protecting and the teacher turned her back saying, “It takes two to argue, Paul, and I refuse to take part.”

The bitter cold has left some of nature’s fur-coat wearing four-footed children seeking additional abodes, namely squirrels. Living on a mountain, albeit not a very high one, means there is the occasional visit from the area’s wildlife. Opossums and raccoons venture forth at times, to peruse the area’s garbage cans and there is the occasional sighting of a small fox. The squirrels, however, seemed to have lost their adventuresome spirit and have decided to move to the suburbs. Neighbors have reported seeing them work their way into attic venting and we once had one work his/her way into the chimney and drop into the fireplace.

This recent “argument” between the squirrels and myself had me spraying all types of liquid around my house. While none kept the squirrels off my roof, they did seem to pause and take in the various odors. Finally I realized my epiphany. I was engaged in a fierce argument with a rodent who could have cared less. In fact, the squirrels seem to be saying “We refuse to participate in this debate” and continue to seek ways to try to crawl inside my roof and get warm. And yes, they turned their back on me.

I was undaunted, however, and decided to put screening up any point of access for them which led me to my second epiphany. Science is wonderful and marvelous and exciting and always expanding its definitions. Nonetheless, a sixteen-foot ladder is never going to inside the standard size mini-van. No amount of changing the seat height nor angling of the ladder changes the basic problem: sixteen feet does not equal eight feet.

Fortunately for me, although the automobile had not yet been invented, someone else had an epiphany concerning ladders. History has no record of who figured out the first system of steps nor who realized that steps with handrails were practical. Having made that discovery we also have no way of knowing whose bright idea it was to make steps with handrails that were free-standing and call it a ladder. Caves in Spain show a ten thousand year-old wall drawing of two people using a ladder to reach a bee hive, supposedly for the purpose of obtaining honey.

Ladders are also mentioned in Abrahamic religious writing. In the Bible, the man Jacob had a dream in which a ladder connects earth to heaven. The ladder depicted in the Spider Caves in Spain appears to be woven from plant fibers. Rope ladders are still used today for basic exercise like rope ladders in gyms but also for more serious purposes such as rescues and escapes. Many boats have more sturdy ladders known as fixed ladders and these are generally made of wood or heavy aluminum.

In 1862 a ladder epiphany came to John Basely of Dayton, Ohio. His patent of the step ladder included hinges so the ladder could be put away and stored. With the industrial Revolution came the work specialist and ladders became much more distinctive, based upon the work for which they were employed. The availability of stronger metals and equipment to produce them also meant different types of ladder materials. Rigid ladders became extension ladders, one of which became the solution to my own personal problem. [A ladder that is six feet but can be extended to sixteen feet got a family member up on the roof and the screening secured.]

The two young men vying for the first position at the water fountain were climbing a metaphorical ladder – the ladder of success. Life can be a competitive sport. People are said to be on one rung or another from their earliest movements. We track the ages and stages of children as a means of determining their progress and in keeping our own expectations in line. Appraisal reports in school are also metaphorical ladders. As adults, we strive to move up in our professions and, for some, even in our leisure time. The proliference of marathons indicates that people like ways to measure and working their way up the symbolic ladder is how they do that.

What if had a world ladder? What if Jacob’s vision of a ladder connecting earth to the great unknown was correct? Whether you call them rungs, steps, or stiles, every ladder has progressive steps that go both upward and downward. How would we identify the steps on a world ladder? Earlier this week a young humanitarian was declared dead. Her death may not have been at the hands of her kidnappers but certainly their actions are a large reason why she is dead. Yesterday an agreement was supposedly reached to halt the war-like actions occurring between Russia and Ukraine. Few expect that agreement to lead upward to peace which leads to another epiphany. One can only reach for that which he/she believes or knows is possible.

Maybe the real secret of the ladder is the belief that it can be climbed. Ladders seem very magical to me. After all, a ladder is two long sticks with a smaller stick placed across that will elevate someone much heavier to great heights. Those sticks might be woven vines, braided leaves, fallen timber, or manmade metals. They still involve two longer things with smaller things working together.

Where could we go if we all just worked together? Andrew Carnegie once said “You cannot push anyone up the ladder unless he is willing to climb.” Arnold Schwarzenegger advised “You cannot climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.” I respectfully disagree with both. Mr. Carnegie never met a pushy parent apparently because children are forever being pushed without a desire to match that of their parents. Also yesterday a Little League team was stripped of its championship title due to the illegal actions of the adults involved in using ineligible players – all for the purpose of moving up the ladder of success. Leaders of fanatical groups like ISIS are moving up their supposed ladders with the hands in their pockets, pockets filled with the blood of innocents as they garner fuel for their egos and money for personal gain.

Whatever ladder we are on, we need to extend it and make sure that our extension does not come at the expense of others. Indian spiritualist Rumi advocated: “From the moment you came into this world, a ladder was place in front of you that you might transcend it.” Metaphorically, we all have stages we pass through, challenges to overcome, and lessons to learn. These are the rungs of our life’s ladders. These are the steps by which we reach fulfillment.

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