Friday, July 20, 2007

Window Washers, July 2007

I went to the dentist on Tuesday for my regular semi-annual cleaning. (As the old commercial said, "Look ma, no cavities!") Afterwards, I walked from my dentist's office, at 54th Street and Park Avenue, across town and down to my office at Eighth Avenue and 40th Street.

It was a nice morning for a walk, and it seemed to be the day for window washing. I passed several crews out on the sides of buildings, cleaning the glass from suspended platforms.

This is not a job I would want. I normally enjoy cleaning anything, but having to do it from such a precariously suspended structure would just freak me out. I'm not great with heights, despite living in the tallest city in the world. As long as there's a barrier between me and, well, falling, I'm fine. But I'm not sure I'd feel very secure in one of those contraptions.

I remember reading about a Buddhist monk who had such a finely honed ability to remain in the moment that once, when he was traveling on an airplane and an engine caught fire, he merely watched it burn from his seat, enjoying the colors of the flames.

To be a window-washer is to employ a similar skill: To set aside the fear of what could happen, and instead be present to what is happening. Why be afraid that the plane will crash, when ultimately it won't? Why be afraid that you're in danger of falling, when as long as you're careful, you're not?

Still, even as I understand the futility of that fear, I'd be afraid on an airplane with a burning engine - just as I'd be nervous on one of those platforms!


  1. The story about the Buddhist monk made me laugh. Being in the moment at a time like that, I think, would require calm, yes, but how about preparing to save yourself? Contacting the flight attendants, getting ready to open the emergency doors or whatever ... just sitting there watching the engine burn? That's crazy.

    I'm afraid of heights, too. My theory is that window washers kind of get off on the thrill of almost falling. Or maybe they're oblivious. Or just not afraid. I'm too stingy to assume they're in the moment, I guess.

    Great pics!

  2. Window washing is a job that I don't understand. It seems too risky to me. I wouldn't get much accomplished because I would be too afraid to move.

    I've seen the old pictures of the great skyscrapers under construction, with the iron workers straddling the beams hundreds of feet above the ground, and I marvel at their composure.

    Maybe being able to do these jobs is really living in the moment. The possibility of falling is real, but once you understand the falling is unlikely, you can enjoy the view!

  3. Fear is all tied to a desire for control, or the hesitation regarding a lack thereof. If you can make peace with not being in control, fear disappears.

  4. A Native American once told me that he (and most other Natives) had no fear of heights so it was easy for them to come to Manhattan and take on all sorts of hi-rise jobs. Maybe they are just zenlike too.

    I think the Monk watching the flames was doing so while others panicked and the stewardess was very busy giving instructions. He saw there was nothing to do, except BE.