To get to the pagoda, we had to march through a Chinese village. Our tour guide warned us to ignore the gauntlet of street peddlers and beggars, then he asked us to turn on our voice boxes so that he could lecture as we walked. I wasn’t feeling well, so I was already grumpy about the strenuous trek ahead.
Thirty minutes later, we reached a long suspension bridge and beyond it was the pagoda. We all started across, and the more we jumped and stomped, the more it moved and swayed – not a good thing for those of us who suffer from vertigo and were already feeling queasy. I yelled at all the frolickers in my mean, teacher voice, and everyone made it to the opposite side a little more subdued.
Our guide rattled on about the wonders of the pagoda and how nowadays visitors approach via the bridge and the easy walkway, but the monks who once owned the well-protected fortress had to climb the rock face using only hand and toe holds.
According to legend, those who venture inside and attempt the many steps will achieve heaven. He warned though that because of the heavy flow of tourist traffic, once we started up there would be no turning back and no slowing down; everyone had to move in one direction.
Several of my fellow travelers sneaked peeks at me but avoided eye contact in case I yelled at them again. I could guess what they were thinking – maybe I should stay back and wait for the group by the suspension bridge.
I don’t remember much about the guide’s lecture - gods, legends, blah-blah-blah – (I was concentrating on the formidable task before me), but I do remember the dark, the dampness, and the narrow, itty-bitty steps. Heat, illness, claustrophobia, and my vertigo - I was in full panic mode, but no one calls me a coward. The steps got narrower, shorter (only the tips of my shoes fit on each rung), and more slippery the closer to heaven we got.
I. Was. In. Hell.
I ended up doing the last few landings on my hands and knees. I didn’t cry but I think I cussed. (I know I was thinking it.) I don’t know if I imagined it or not, but someone used a shoulder and both hands on my rear a couple of times. I hope it was HoneyBunch. I remember him talking to me and urging me on. God bless you, sweetheart.
I was so, SO happy when I hit sunshine at the top that I wanted to kiss everyone in sight (even the bridge bouncers), but I recovered some of my shredded dignity and resisted the impulse. When it was time to head back (and my BP was quasi-normal again), I inched my way across the suspension bridge. It was a breeze in comparison to what I had survived inside the pagoda.
HoneyBunch keeps telling me that he was so proud that I persevered through my fears, and I tell him that the metaphor of the pagoda steps is not lost on me.
Many of us will reach heaven on our hands and knees, yelling and kicking all the way. Though we are dependent on the kindness and urging of others, in the end we each have to achieve it on our own.