On climbing buildings

I climb buildings. Start there.

I climb buildings. Some people act, others write poetry; some people play sports, and others dance. I can’t pretend to be something I’m not, and my words wander; I can’t throw or catch if my life depended on it, and my (lack of) rhythm is something to behold. So instead, I climb buildings.

I climb buildings. For the first time in my life, I have found a place where I am truly free, where I am completely liberated from the ties which bind me to this earth. Untethered from gravity, surpassing even my own fear, I experience life in its purest, most resplendent form, unadulterated by the petty trivialities which assail me down below. There, on the rooftops, I have found a home in the sky. I have found a family with the birds. I have found an altar in the chimneys.

I climb buildings. For me, it is not just a pastime. It is a faith. The ascent is my religion. The rooftops are my churches. The thrashed tendons, the tattered limbs, the bloody fingers are the stigmata of my faith. In avulsions and abrasions, my absolution; in contusions and lacerations, my penitence. I climb to embrace the world while simultaneously escaping from it; I climb to confront myself even as I run away from myself. Balanced on a ledge hundreds of feet above certain peril, the will to live manifests in an opiate-like surge – an atavistic twitch as powerful and purifying as any divine revelation or saintly thaumaturgy.

I climb buildings. I transcend obstacles, and boundaries. I have learned that walls need not be torn down when they can just as easily be vaulted; I have learned that one man’s limitations are another man’s stepping stones. Where others see walls, I see footholds. Where others see fences, I see ladders. The tools of my resistance are not hammers nor sickles; my weapons neither blades nor truncheons. I need no tools because I need only my body; I need no weapons because I do not need to fight. I am not afraid of men who carry big sticks, because I know I can outrun them. I am not afraid of prisons and cages, because I am certain I can outclimb them. This is the philosophy of the rooftops. I do not break systems. I transcend them. In my transcendence, I become glorious – like a bird in flight.

I am a body in motion. I am a bird in flight. I am a leaf upon the wind, and I am a ghost flitting through the night. When I move, I am the water that flows in cold mountain streams, fallen from peaks of unmelting snow. As I flow, I cut through slabs of ancient granite as large as small homes. I am a body in motion. I am a bird in flight.

I climb buildings. In my ascent, I trespass the boundary between men and birds. I climb, and I surpass. Looking down from those boundless heights, the world is so small, so reachable. Everything is beautiful, and nothing hurts. The problems and worries which plagued me down below become trivial – with one sweep of the hand, one quantum leap, I can render them obsolete. The banality of humdrum minutiae no longer bothers me, and indeed, the nausea that overcame me the first time was not the sickening nausea of vertigo – but the dizzying nausea of possibility. Up there, among those twisting chimneys, those towering spires, there’s nothing to hold you back. No past, no future, no present. No home, no friends, no enemies, no school, no work, no love, no philosophy, no kings, no gods. There is a ledge you must reach, and you reach it. I do not think about what happens if I do not reach it, if I slip, if I fail – because there is no such thing as failure. It is not even not an option. There is only one direction, and that is up. There is an obstacle that must be overcome, and I shall overcome.

I shall overcome, and I have overcome. I have waited freezing to death on ledges the width of my hands above busy avenues, waiting for the sunlight to push just a little upwards so it does not blind me. I have vaulted and veered against the day with the nascence of flight sprouting between my shoulder-blades, always trusting that tender sky which never once let me down. I have chased the pigeons and hawks to the vertical angles of burning sunsets, the fiery iridescent haze of twilight gleaming at my back. I am a young god, and I am awakening. I am the son of an ancient phoenix, and I am spreading my wings. I am a dragon blinded by light, wounded by love, surging against the thousand slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I’m just a kid who climbed to run away from himself, from life, only to find in the heights nothing more, nothing less than himself – than tragic, painful, exhilarating, curious life.

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3 thoughts on “On climbing buildings

  1. For someone whose words wander, they certainly led somewhere. An enjoyable read and a nice little metaphor for overcoming obstacles and finding a pocket of one’s self. I could get technical and picky but nah. I do love these kinds of musings on experiences though. But you got to find wonder no matter where you are. A kind of heightened sense if you will. I did some climbing back then, though, not anymore. My neighborhood isn’t great for that kind of thing. I just work with what’s on the ground but then again, nothing beats the almost silence of being on a rooftop, everything on the avenues become a faraway echo. I certainly would love to go climbing again. Just gotta find buildings short enough for me first!

    Alvin Wong

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