Photo by Martin Pu00e9chy on

I remember being frightened to enter an elevator when I was a child. I held on tightly to my mother’s hand as I jumped over what seemed to be a massive gap between the main building and the tiny enclosure that moved up and down. I suppose that I thought that I might fall through that tiny opening in the floor and fall to my death. I was also concerned that the doors might suddenly close and crush me if I were still in the way. 

My mother always assured me that there were mechanisms designed to make elevators as safe as can be. When years later a man literally got crushed by elevator doors that unexpectedly shut on his body I wondered what other things my mother had told me had actually been a bit inaccurate. Hearing the constant admonition to “mind the gap” when exiting elevators in London also made me realize that I may not have been so silly at all with my childhood anxiety about that little space that always seemed larger than if actually was. 

One thing that never really concerned me was the idea of being trapped in an elevator. I simply assumed that the little box would move up and down as planned, but indeed there have been occasions when people found themselves stuck between floors when the power in a building suddenly went out. Since I tend to become anxious in closed spaces I don’t think I would do well if such an occasion were to arise. I suppose that I would rather use stairs or escalators when possible to make certain that I will never find myself in a situation that would no doubt cause my heart to beat a bit too fast. On the whole I need to have a way to escape on my own power rather than relying on an electric mechanism that keeps things operating as they should. 

If such an event did indeed occur I suppose that I would have to breathe deeply and attempt to divert my thoughts for however long I was trapped. Even though I would generally prefer to be alone with my fears, this would be one occasion when companionship with other humans would actually be helpful, but not too many. If I were squeezed into a tiny space I’m afraid that I would freak out and hyperventilate. Having enough room to move around and maybe even sit down for a time would make it at least a tiny bit bearable. 

I suppose when I think of such possibilities of entrapment my mind drifts to thoughts of slaves packed in the bottom of a ship, chained up as though they were property rather than humans. I imagine those cattle cars on trains filled with souls headed to concentration camps. I associate tight spaces with cruelty and hatred.

We humans have some very bad tendencies to rank other people as though some types are superior and other are inferior. I’m not sure what causes us to do such things, but it is fact that has happened for centuries. It’s why the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians and people are trafficked for profit even in modern times. I sometimes wonder if my aversion to being confined comes from my empathy with those who have been degraded, trapped and confined by other human beings throughout the course of history. 

It has always been difficult for me to understand why people ever thought it was proper to steal land from people native to a certain region or to classify persons of a certain description as being inferior and yet it is a fact of history that these things have happened over and over again. Even my Slovakian immigrant grandparents and their children were taunted and ridiculed as being dirty and somehow subpar to the people around whom they lived only because they were from a certain part of the Europe that was thought to be inferior. I think of my grandparents traveling across the ocean in search of freedom in the tightly packed steerage of a ship only to be unwelcomed when they arrived. I feel suffocated by the mere thought of what they patiently endured without complaint just to earn a place in America. 

So if I were trapped inside an elevator I would hope that I would be able to get control of my claustrophobia and be calm and pleasant with whoever was in the situation with me. I’d want to work together to free ourselves from the confinement and maybe make a joke about our situation or tell each other stories about who we are and why we happen to be in the same place at the same time. It would be the only way that I would be able to endure my fate without overreacting and thinking about what imprisonment of any kind must be like. I’d remind myself that people before me have endured far worse. 

The odds that I will ever find myself stranded inside an elevator are slim to none so it’s unlikely that my courage will be tested inside such an enclosed area. I’m more likely to come unglued in a closely packed moving crowd. Mosh pits and I will never come together, nor will I put myself in the middle of hundreds of people moving together at the end of an event. Thankfully I have total control over the situations in which I place myself unlike refugees so desperate to flee from oppressive governments that they will squeeze into the back of a windowless van to die from heat and suffocation. Still I wonder why some humans are still so cruel. Surely history has taught us to be better.

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