From a young age, I was captivated by the story of Icarus. As an adult, on this Good Friday, I am revisiting the timeless lesson.
In case you don’t recall the Greek myth, Icarus’ dad, Daedalus, was an amazing craftsman/inventor and he had ingeniously fashioned wings fastened together by wax. This enabled the father-son duo to do something humanly impossible, to take a spin up in the clouds. As the ancient tale goes, Icarus was so delighted he took to the skies like a soaring bird. He kept climbing higher and higher. So drawn to the heights, he quickly disregarded, or could not hear, the shouts of warning from his concerned father to steer clear of the sun. The wise Daedalus understood the dangers of the heat to wax.
Icarus, however, had a singular focus, as he became transfixed by his steady ascent. But the sun’s heat proved too powerful for the wax. As the feathers began melting off, Icarus eventually met his fate, plunging to his death in the ocean below.
My own Icarus moment didn’t end so tragically, but in retrospect, I realize it could have.
I was 16-years-old (probably around the age of Icarus) and had just scored a “plum” part-time job at a fancy department store in the china/ crystal department. All of my fellow employees were full-time adult career sales clerks who had been with the company for years and in some cases, decades. I must have impressed the store manager in my interview, (or so I thought) because rather than put me in Juniors’ clothing, where most of my contemporaries ended up, he thought I would be better suited to the area that specialized in Royal Doulton and Waterford. My own family mainly used plastic utensils and paper plates, so I’m not sure what it was that made him think, “Yep, china/ crystal department for her,” but it felt like a kind of distinction. His hunch was good because very quickly I learned to chat up our customers in an engaging way. Most were impressed with my knowledge and customer service skills. A few older patrons even mentioned to my manager that they were highly impressed. One evening, while basking in all the positive praise, my boss left me with instructions to dust a couple of fixtures should I encounter any lulls. She pointed out the rickety stepping stool in the backroom and cautioned me to “be extremely careful!” I made up my mind, I would not only dust the fixtures she pointed out, but all of them. You see, I was thoroughly enjoying the acclaim in my little corner of the store and I craved more. I was eager to become the best employee they’d ever had.
At the very first opportunity, I pulled out that 3-step ladder and made my way to the Waterford crystal display. Waterford was the most expensive stuff we had—gorgeous, intricately chiseled Irish crystal vases, candy dishes, candlesticks, and figurines that sparkled in the light. To me the cost for these pieces was so outlandish, it was like Monopoly money prices. With dust rag in hand and a resolute mindset, I climbed the stool.
At the time, late 1980’s, mermaid skirts were the peak of fashion—at least in suburban Cleveland & environs. They are aptly called mermaid skirts because they taper below the knees and then gradually flare out at the ankle. My skirt was limiting, to say the least, but I like to think I effortlessly shimmied my way around all that beautiful china and crystal with the utmost elegance. Climbing a stool, however, wasn’t so pretty.
I mounted the ladder for the first time and began with the second-highest shelf and ever-so-carefully picked up each tchotchke, marveling at their immense weight as I carefully removed the offending film of dust. Once that hurdle was cleared, I was empowered to move on to the top rung… Not sure what exactly caused my initial imbalance, maybe my gravity-defying big Van Halen hair, but as I reached for a giant, glittering vase, the ladder seemed to wobble underneath me. My other hand shot out for something stabilizing, which happened to be the metal arm of the fixture. I grabbed hold as I began to fall backward.
I can still remember the series of sounds that followed—a loooong ripping of fabric, as my outstretched leg tested the narrow confines of my skirt, a blip of silence, followed by a disastrous string of startling crashes.
I lay on my back staring up at the ultra-bright display lights and listening to the piped-in jazzy muzak when another clerk from the domestics department (bedding & linen) rushed in and found me. She had heard the commotion. She quickly surveyed the scene—me on the floor, all of the valuable items from the top shelf shattered around me, and asked me if I was ok. I struggled to my feet and it was then that I noticed the giant rip in my skirt’s backside. Other than that embarrassing 8-inch tear, exposing my slip to the world, I was fine. But it had been a harsh and epic fall from grace.
At some point, all of us long to climb insurmountable heights. We all desire to ascend to the clouds and dream about what it might look like from atop the world. That longing is within each of us. We are all Icarus.
But on Good Friday, Christ challenges us to mount a hill with Him. It’s not to grow closer to the dazzling sun or to seek praise, fame, distinction, and self-gratification—it is to die. Death is ahead of us no matter what path we choose. Over the course of our lifetime, we have the free will to decide which steep mountains we will climb and die on. It can be for career, pleasure, success, comfort, money, sex, fitness, youth, fame, and every other possible combination. But when we ascend the hill with Christ, we die to those things. We die to ourselves. And that is what ultimately saves us. Today, I meditate on what hills I am willing to die on. What is my focus as I set my sights on the heavens? When I climb, what is it I am striving for? Do I have the courage to mount a hill to die to myself? If so, God promises so much more than a tragic death, or an embarrassing, expensive fall. We are designed to ascend for a reason. We are meant to rise. May it always be through Him, with Him, and in Him that we reach the heights we are destined for.
A blessed Triduum to you!