When I was a boy growing up, I was always fascinated by the thoughts of whatever was on the other side of that door in the ceiling. It wasn’t a door, really. It had no hinges or doorknob, but otherwise it looked like a door. Except that it was in the ceiling in the middle of the hallway that led from our living room to the bedrooms.
Once in a while, my dad or my grandfather would get the ladder out of the garage and set it up in the hallway. Then one of them would climb the ladder, open the little door in the ceiling, and scoot up into … I had no idea. But sometimes one of them would bring things down from up there. Old things – pictures, clothes, a fire truck made out of wood that once was probably red but only showed faint signs of paint when my father let me look at it. I couldn’t play with it, he said. Too fragile.
Then one day when my father was ‘up there’ I decided I wanted to see for myself. I looked around to be sure mom wasn’t watching. Then I held tightly to the side rails of the ladder and climbed to the first step. Cautiously, I slid my hands up the rails, afraid to let go but knowing I had to reach higher before I could take the next step. I had seen my dad do that.
But before I could raise my foot, I looked down. Suddenly I was gripped with fear. It seemed such a long way down to the floor. I had fallen off things before, and I didn’t like the experience. Carefully, my palms damp, I slid my hands back down the rails and gripped with all my might as I eased my foot off the bottom rung and back to the floor. Safe!
A few days later, my grandfather got the ladder out and climbed up through the door in the ceiling. I stood at the bottom and was looking up when I heard my dad’s voice behind me. “Mike, would you like to try?” I wasn’t sure whether I did or not, but I nodded my head. “I saw you try the other day, and you were doing it right. Just try again and I’ll be here to help you if you need it.”
The first step seemed easier than it had before, but as I started to pull my foot up to the second step, I wavered. Then, I felt my dad’s strong hands on my waist. “You can do it, son.” And then I was on the second step. I was feeling good, but then I looked down again. The safety of the floor seemed very, very far away now. “Dad, I can’t do it. Please let me get down!” “It’s ok, son,” he said. “We’ll try it together again next time.”
This went on for a few more times with my courage gaining every time. Then one day, my grandfather got the ladder out and my father said, “Ready to go up there, son?” “Sure, dad,” I said. I hoped my voice was more positive than I felt. My grandfather climbed the ladder and went up through the door. I followed, carefully pulling myself up each step. I was aware that my dad’s hands were there, ready to catch me, but he didn’t touch me. He just said quietly, “you can do it, son. I know you can do it.”
I got to the top step and held on the peak of the ladder with all my might. I didn’t dare look at the floor. I had come too far for that. But there was a gap between the top step of the ladder and the opening in the ceiling. How would I ever bridge that gap? Grandfather and dad were so much taller and they seemed to do it easily. But I wasn’t ready.
Just as I started to go back down, my grandfather’s hand reached down through the opening. “Take my hand, Mike. I’ll help you.” And he boosted me into the attic.
And with that I learned what I needed to know about life. Yes, you might be able to make it on your own, but it’s a lot easier if you have someone to encourage you to climb, and someone who has gone before you who cares enough to reach back down and help you up.