How An Elevator (or two) Caused Me to Question Eleanor Roosevelt

For a long time I have held Eleanor Roosevelt in high esteem, and I have always loved the following quote:

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”

This evening I involuntarily had to stare down one of my biggest fears. I removed myself from my semi-warm blankets into the freezing evening air to go to our weekly Movie Club. After quickly shuffling from the metro stop to the university, I found myself rather out of breath and exhausted, so I did what I never do.

I took the elevator.


Huge mistake.

And so I found myself stuck in an elevator alone.

Soviet Elevator p hoto from Georgia
Soviet Style Elevator from the outside. Photo by David Hovey

As I fought the rising panic, I frantically searched for me cell phone and thanked God to see that I had reception since hitting the call button would do me little good with an inability to speak Russian/Ukrainian. I phoned one of our staff who proceeded to get the guys together to try helping.

After an unsuccessful attempt to open the doors, the guys talked to me through the door as Olya ran downstairs to the dezhurnaya on duty. Olya then served as my translator for what the lady said I should do.

Pressing buttons for another floor proved pointless.

Then she told me to jump, and even the thought made me give a very nervous cry. Did I mention I actually was crying by this point?

I jumped a little and the elevator dropped a few inches. She sounded more hopeful than I did that this was a good thing. Yet still the doors would not open and the big, all too cozy box refused to give up its hostage.

Finally she told me to hit the cancel button, press for the 14th floor and then the close doors button. Easy for her to say since if this didn’t work I would be the one suspended in an elevator shaft alone and 14 floors up instead of just 6.

However, I followed orders and on the 14th floor emerged tempted to kiss the university floor and vowing to never step foot in an elevator at Dragamonova the rest of my life.

The funny thing later was that tonight’s movie selection turned out to be What About Bob?. One of the first scenes is of Bob trying to get on an elevator but his fear gets the better of him and instead he climbs 44 flights to the psychiatrist’s office.

Arriving at my apartment, I talked myself into facing the fear and stepping into the elevator. I pressed 6 and it stopped on 3. Thinking maybe someone became tired of waiting and took the stairs, I pressed 6 again and it then opened at 4. Deciding not to press my luck, I walked the last two flights of stairs. Somehow the dark and menacing (not to mention frozen) stairwell seemed the better alternative tonight.

There is a good chance I will refuse to go out tomorrow… or at least refuse to go anywhere that requires an elevator.

And I’m no longer sure I agree with Eleanor. I do not feel that I’ve gained any strength, courage, and certainly not confidence by looking that fear in the face.

Sorry Eleanor, usually we agree.

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