We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofAlex Holtkamp

 It’s the spring of 2011. I am at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, and I walk into the living room. My cousins are watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a movie that came out in 2009 and has a 34% score on rotten tomatoes. So, it was a pretty stellar movie. I walk in and they’re watching this movie, and it’s right at the scene where the Eiffel Tower collapses. I was six years old at the time, and I saw this and thought, “huh... so that happens sometimes.” Fast forward three months. I am standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower, bawling my eyes out. You know that one annoying kid at every tourist attraction that won’t shut up? Yeah, that was me.  Fast forward again, but this time to when I was twelve years old. Now, we’re at the Grand Canyon, one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. I’m much older than I’d been in Paris, so I can actually appreciate that. I still cannot get rid of this feeling of fear in my gut, though. And here, looking over the edge at the trees six thousand feet below, with no guardrail or anything to stop me from falling, is when I realized: I’m afraid of heights.  And, to anyone afraid of heights, the Grand Canyon is your worst nightmare. There are ledges that jut out, ones you actually have to climb down to get to, that people will go out and stand on. They’ll even sit on the edge and dangle their feet over the abyss. Just watching this nearly made me stain my underwear a nice shade of brown. All of this to say, I refused to go within ten feet of the ledge after a while. My courage had run dry.  I’m not sure how I hadn’t figured out I was afraid of heights yet nor how my parents hadn’t. But once I did, it finally all clicked, and we all realized why I’d been so terrified on the Eiffel Tower. That was my first memory ever being afraid of heights. So the question became: did G.I. Joe cause me to be afraid of heights? Because if so, that’s just amazing that a really bad action movie from 12 years ago that I never even actually watched had that effect on me.  But despite how funny that would be, it’s not important. What is important is this. Let’s go back to that first memory on the Eiffel Tower. The irony there is that it was my idea to go up the thing. My parents just wanted to stay on the ground, but I really wanted to go to the top. But, when we got to the top, I couldn’t enjoy it. Because instead of enjoying the incredible view of Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, all that was running through my head was fear. And now that I’ve gotten older, I understand the importance of facing your fears. Obviously, not all of them, some of your fears are good for you. You shouldn’t go try to hug a grizzly bear. But in situations like I had, where you have the opportunity to experience something amazing, but you’re scared, being able to push through that fear is so important. This applies to public speaking, meeting new people, exploring new places, or whatever gives you anxiety. Oftentimes once you break through that wall of fear and nerves, you’ll understand not only how silly you were for being nervous, but what you were missing out on.

© Alex Holtkamp. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.