A month ago, I climbed to the top of the courthouse building.
I was with Yakov W. and Aaron F. as we passed the north side of the building. I noticed scaffolding leading up to the roof.
“I have a desire to climb those stairs,” I said. And once the words were verbalized, out in the open, it seemed like a distinct possibility. Yakov was already nodding.
“We should do that,” he agreed. The beginning of an adventurous smile was twitching on his face.
“No way,” Aaron said, but I took a step toward the building anyway, and then another. Yakov fell into step, and reluctantly, Aaron did too. We approached the base of the scaffolding where it seemed almost inaccessible, blocked with plywood and chains and padlocks. I heard Aaron faintly in the background, mumbling something about getting arrested for trespassing at a courthouse.
For a second I thought the way was blocked, and a mixture of relief and disappointment was starting to bubble up. But then I could see a way up and my heart started to pound. The adventure was on. We were really about to do this.
Sidestepping the plywood and locks, I ducked under the lowest bar and swung myself up, using the base to support my weight. On the next level now, I could use the stairs. I began to climb. Yakov and Aaron were right behind me; Yakov was visibly excited, Aaron spewing paranoia and reluctance.
It was a thrill. I expected someone to jump out and stop us with a bullhorn and a badge. but nobody materialized. Up and up we went. Six, seven floors at least. And the we crossed a narrow board of wood that led to the roof itself. It seemed like a miniature city of its own, with slanted roofs and gutters, and rectangular lakes frozen in time that were in fact skylights.
We seemed like comical giants in a foreign landscape. The “floor” was pale tan in color, rubber and slightly springy underfoot. And this was just the base of the roof. As we explored the entire level, we could see that there was another ladder. Now we were on the same level as the four lesser domes of the courthouse building. A church cemetery was visible in the distance; to the west, the river dominated the landscape. Sturdy bridges seemed puny and the cars that scurried across them, pathetically vain.
The height had distorted the scale of my perception. The smaller and further away something appeared to be, the more insignificant it became. My perspective had become superimposed. I had an objective eye, to arbitrarily view the buildings and trees and little people far below.
One ladder remained to be climbed, leading to the main dome. We climbed, and sat back in the moment. We took in the scene. The breeze. The overlaid brushstrokes of the sun’s rays through the clouds. We took in the background noise churning on the ground level of existence: cars rushing, beeping; birds must have been chirping, but it all washed together into an abstract white noise. We had no relevance to the panting footfalls of a jogging college student. We weren’t able to hear him, and more than that, at this height he was utterly insignificant. A lesser mortal treading a mundane path, beating a tattoo of sweat into tar mixed by human hands. So far removed from the true vision. Limited by the mortality of human life.
Wind whistled in our ears. The sun shined weakly. We began to climb down, the journey in reverse. The cream roof, the sequestered neighborhoods of imaginary inhabitants. And then down, down the stairs, seeing the tops of the trees become their mid-branches, then trunks. Sounds began to mean something again. Relevance as life became to-scale again. And we walked along, aware that we were walking the paths of mortal men.