By Caleb Marcus, Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2016 Participant
As the ladder swayed from side to side, I looked up, then down, and took a breath before climbing up the prongs.
It was my first day working at Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, and to be honest, it was a little intimidating to join the interns, who have had a lot more experience with this. We chose our tasks, and despite my raging fear of heights, mine ended up being climbing up a ladder and scraping all the dirt off of a chimney.
Rather than asking for a different task, I chose to embrace this as an opportunity to help conquer my fear. I climbed up the ladder, but not all the way. With my entire body shaking, I stopped where I could see some of the ladder above me. Then I started brushing.
As I was working, I started thinking. I’d never be able to finish this entire chimney, as my task was to clean only one side of it. Even if I could, I couldn’t finish the house. Even if I finished the house, New Orleans would still need rebuilding. Even if New Orleans was rebuilt, it would be impossible to solve all the other problems that need to be worked on. It’s like the quote from the Talmud, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Avot 2. 21). I picked up the scrapper.
As I continued to scrape and brush, time flew by and took me with it. Without realizing it, I was at the top of the ladder. Literally. I looked down, wondering how I climbed up there. Just so I could tell myself that I did it, I touched the ceiling. It felt amazing. Then I continued working until the bus came to pick us up to take us back to our dorms at Tulane.
Looking back, I am so happy that I stepped way out of my comfort zone today and was able to pull through with everything being okay. For year, heights have stopped me from doing what I have wanted to do – in the past, I sometimes wouldn’t even go on a roller coaster or go skiing on the trails that were too close to an edge of the mountain. However, I will take this day with me, a chance I had to make even a small impact and let it be a reminder of the payoff of choosing to challenge myself in the future.