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Risky Business

By Hannah Reich Berman

There is a long list of things that mystify me. And as I get older, the list gets longer. I am mystified by the fact that so many people intentionally put themselves in jeopardy by engaging in risky behavior. Being a devout coward, I can’t relate to it.

For starters, I was never able to figure out why some folks climb mountains. At the moment, I am especially perplexed by those who challenge Mount Everest. And what a challenge it is! Recently, a tragic accident on that mountain took the lives of more than a dozen Sherpas. So much unnecessary heartache for the surviving Sherpas as well as for the climbers who know and love them. All of these people are like a family. But those who are addicted to the sport see mountain-climbing from a different perspective. Those Sherpas who were on the mountain at the time of the accident and survived the massive avalanche that buried their friends were heartbroken. Nevertheless, they immediately said that they would climb again. That’s probably because this is their only way to earn a living and support their families. But what about the men (and women) who do it simply for sport? Their logic escapes me.

Everest is a killer. Aside from the bitterly cold environment, the air is thin, which makes breathing difficult. So not only do the climbers ascend a treacherous trail while weighted down with backpacks, but they do it while breathing is a supreme effort. How important is it to climb that mountain? I don’t get it. But I may be not the right one to judge these folks, since I don’t even like walking uphill. Give me a flat surface anytime! Despite the advice of doctors, as well as my children, my treadmill, which I rarely use anyhow, has never been set on an incline. Mountain climbers, however, are a different breed. After all, these are folks who, even after sometimes losing fingers, toes, or even an entire limb, will think nothing of returning to the activity after they heal. No wonder I can’t relate; I wouldn’t resume an activity if it had ruined my manicure.

Additionally, a mountain climber always has a ready answer when asked why he climbed a particular mountain: because it’s there. I too sometimes give that same answer. But I do it when one of my kids asks me why I ate a piece of chocolate cake that was on the table even though I’m supposed to be dieting.

It is also difficult for me to relate to people who, knowing full well that there are sharks in the water, hop on a surfboard. Last year there was a news report about a teenage girl in Australia who lost her arm to a shark while surfing. And when she left the hospital, she went right back to the sport. It blew my mind. I question why anyone would do that. Call me judgmental, but the word meshugah comes to mind. There is some behavior that I can’t relate to, but that—as with the girl who went back to her surfing, minus one arm—I can occasionally chalk up to youth.

Heights are not my thing. And my fears are not just about mountain-climbing. I get queasy on an escalator. Moving stairs don’t work for me! If I’m in a department store and the elevator isn’t operational (G‑d forbid I should take the stairs) I will use the escalator because there is no choice. But I do it tentatively, stepping onto the first step, grabbing the railing, and then hanging on to it for the duration of the ride. That is my modus operandi. And I stare straight ahead, not looking down over the railing. The last thing I want to see is the first floor fade into the distance below.

Most elevators are okay with me, but I’m selective. In some fancy establishments, the elevators have glass walls. Most people think they’re great. I do too, but only if I’m standing on the first floor, watching as it ascends. If I happen to be a passenger in one of those contraptions, I don’t look out. Why should I? My philosophy is that I am in there for the sole purpose of getting to my destination, not to enjoy the view.

And, speaking of views, on one of my visits to Israel, I was the only member of my tour group who kept her eyes closed as we sat on top of Masada and listened to our guide retell the story of that spot. When we were climbing up, I never once looked down—and I wasn’t about to change my strategy once I got to the top. Hubby was with me then, and he knew exactly why I kept my eyes tightly shut once we got to the top. Others didn’t understand, but when one woman asked me about it, I just said that the sun was bothering me. It was a lie, but it didn’t hurt her and it spared me some embarrassment.

Recently, the public was appalled by the lax building security that allowed three schnooks to sneak into the World Trade Center and hang out there for several hours before parachuting to the ground. The security issue was troublesome, but I was unable to fully focus on it because I was too busy questioning the sanity of the young men. The only thing that makes sense is that they were young people, and young people don’t worry about much.

Take the kid who stowed away in the wheel well of a jumbo jet last month, and managed to survive a more-than-five-hour flight from California to Hawaii. He was either gutsy or nutsy. In spite of his age and his lack of maturity, I am still unable to wrap my head around what he did. Once again, I may not be the one to judge him because I don’t even love planes when I’m inside of one, so I certainly can’t relate to flying while being on the outside. Speaking candidly, my anxiety level soars as soon as I walk into an airport lobby. And it increases tenfold when I board the plane. So it is unthinkable to me that someone would hide in a wheel well—not to mention subject himself to freezing temperatures as the airplane climbs to a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet or more. The kid’s explanation was that he did it because he wanted to see his mother. That leads me to yet another question: Which of my offspring would go that far to see me? Couldn’t the kid have done what my kids do? Just text, for heaven’s sake! And if he was desperate to actually see her face, he could have FaceTimed her. It beats taking the chance of freezing to death.

The bottom line is that I don’t understand any of it. I have never, nor will I ever, do any mountain-climbing, hiding in wheel wells, surfing with sharks, or parachuting from tall buildings. About the riskiest thing I ever do is to get a haircut or try out a new nail-polish color. That’s the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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Posted by on May 15, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.