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my eyes have gotten better

Tags: cathedral, eyes, 76


The year was 1936 and my friend Fred and I had decided on a bike Odyssey through Germany during our 9-week school vacation. Fred had just turned 16, and unlike me, had never traveled outside Berlin. We spent many hours planning the trip, discussing what to see, and how to handle the logistics.

Money was not a big problem; we figured on each taking two German Marks, mainly for postage. For lunch we would knock on a door in a small village, or stop at a monastery for a handout. Where to sleep was not a problem either. We would ask a farmer to sleep in the barn in return for some help with his evening chores. This usually brought also a dinner invitation.

I had drawn up a fairly lengthy list of places and areas I wanted to visit, while Fred had only some sketchy ideas. The one really important place he wanted to see was the Cathedral in Cologne. He had read about it and had seen some photographs, and the two famous steeples had fired his imagination. The religious aspect was of no interest to him, In fact, he never called himself a Christian.

When I was about five or six I had visited my mother in Cologne and I remembered that my mother and I visited the Cathedral then. To me at that time it was just a BIG building. But this time, standing in the plaza at the front of the Cathedral, looking up at the two soaring spires, it was an immense, commanding, and thoroughly humbling edifice. My friend Fred was simply overwhelmed.

I also had had a particular church on my list, and religion had nothing to do with my choice either. I wanted to see the Cathedral of ULM and climb the church steeple, which even today is still the tallest church steeple in the world. I don’t remember how many steps I had to climb, except that there were more than 750. But so what, I was 16 and invincible!

I vividly recall the upper portion of the stairs, a narrow, rickety wooden spiral staircase, just wide enough for one person. Don’t ever try this adventure if you are claustrophobic or have fear of heights. And I also recall that getting back down was much tougher than going up. When I arrived back at ground level I was exhilarated, but also felt more like 96 than 16.

I visited both cathedrals again sixty years later with my wife and another couple from Colorado. In Ulm I sat on the wall of a flower planter and recalled my adventure climbing the creaking stairs to the top.

Later, in Cologne, I again stood in the plaza at the cathedral’s entrance and looked up at the twin towers reaching into the sky.

But now I saw the cathedrals as a 76-year old man, and I was utterly amazed at how much more my 76-years old eyes could see compared to my 16-year old eyes.

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