Kim and I, before we became a law office, were paint and wallcovering contractors. In 1990, a Japanese firm invited us to work on a Virginia colonial mansion in Omotego, Japan. The “Amelican” house boasted four sixteen-foot Doric columns and a Gone-With-The-Wind staircase; it nestled into a steep hillside. The rear foundation lay seventy feet below the chimney cap. Laborers accessed these heights from scaffolding built for Japanese laborers. I was overweight, about two Japanese workers big. The scaffold complained beneath my clomping. Its moaning stoked my acrophobia. I (probably unfairly) blame Grandmother Lancaster for my fear of heights. She discovered that if she changed squirmy Brad’s diaper by placing him on her low-boy freezer, the hell-on-wheels toddler lay perfectly still. Over the years, I learned to restrain, but not defeat, my fear of heights. With sweaty palms, I climbed that rickety scaffold’s reaches to paint chimney caps.
An early-winter morning brought frost. A final task remained. Up the scaffold, over the gutter, onto the frosted roof, along the frosted peak to a chimney cap requiring a final coat. I climbed like a monkey. I put one foot on the slick roof. I froze. Terror made me stupid, inept. After ten minutes of silent war, fear won.
Safe below, I reported; the crew laughed. After the frost melted, I took my bucket and brush up again. The only way to spit back at fear is to aim straight into its teeth. To my astonishment, that nemesis chimney cap had been recoated. I retreated, relieved but puzzled. Inquiring, I learned that John, my friend and boss, had scampered up that frosty roof and finished my bit. He eventually confessed: “You couldn’t; I could. We all do our part.”
Seneca (Roman, 1st century A.D.) said: “Friendship produces between us a partnership in all our interests. There is no such thing as good or bad fortune for the individual; we live in common” (Epistle XLVIII). I was grateful to avoid that roof. I am more grateful for a friend like John.