The Nature of Glass

This article appeared as part of my Distinct Impressions series over a decade ago. So many of our fears are unwarranted. Yet, as we dwell on the unlikely, our anxiety builds. And so it was that, on an elevator in Atlanta, I began to consider the nature of glass.

Photo Credit: LeoSynapse at FreeImages.com

There are 47 floors at this Marriott in Atlanta and the elevators move upward in a giant cavern-like atrium.  While I was looking up from the lobby, someone commented that it appeared that we were in the belly of a big ol’ whale.  (Made me wonder what everyone else in the lobby had done to make God angry.  I had a pretty good idea why I would’ve been tossed off the boat . . .)

I really hadn’t much thought about glass elevators until I boarded one with 15 other people yesterday.  I was the last one to get on.  There was a lady at the front of the car who moved toward me as soon as the door closed.

“Excuse me, but I’ve got to be up close to that door,” she said.  “If I look out the glass, I’ll grow faint and I’ll probably throw up.”

With that she pushed me further back in the car.  It was probably a group dynamic thing, but I suddenly found my face pressed against the glass, unable to back away.  All I could think about was her last words, “look out the glass . . . faint . . . throw up.”

Words are powerful weapons in the hands of trained professionals.

As the express elevator quickly bypassed the first 30 floors, little beads of sweat broke out on my head.  But I couldn’t force my eyes closed.  I just kept watching the floor fall away.

But I got a grip on myself and began to think rationally.  This glass between me and oblivion was substantial.  In fact, it was plated glass — strong enough to walk on.  I couldn’t break this glass if I tried.  I started going through everything I knew about glass.  It was then that I remembered . . .

Glass is a liquid, you know.  Over time it will actually “flow” as gravity pulls it earthward.  Next time you’re in an old house check it out.  The glass at the bottom of the windows will be thicker.

(That is one of the few things I learned in college physics.  That course, by the way, is why I didn’t pursue a medical degree.  I figured if all I really learned from eight hours of credit was that glass was viscous, I might not be particularly well prepared for a career that seems to pivot on scientific knowledge.)

Suddenly viewing my safety barrier as a liquid wasn’t the best idea of the day.  The thought flashed on my memory screen about the time the door opened. I moved quickly and decisively to nimbly assist the queasy woman off the elevator.

She would have been more grateful if it had been her floor.

I didn’t think the fact that I also had gotten off on the wrong floor was something I needed to bring up.  So, after I apologized and pressed the button for another elevator for her, I wheeled around and strode confidently down the hall.

When I got out of her sight, I ducked in the stairwell and slowly ascended to my floor.  Not slowly enough it seems.  As I crossed in front of the elevators on the way to my room, my new-found friend was just getting off.

“I couldn’t find the ice machine on my floor,” I said for her benefit and walked toward a likely location for an ice machine.  She was kind enough not to ask what I intended to put the ice in. When I was sure she was in her room, I went back to the elevator platform and pressed the button for one more ride to the bottom and back up. I had to restore my confidence — in elevators, in glass, and in myself.

Why is it that we can think ourselves into fear?  And perhaps more disturbing, why is it we can think our way out?  Surely, raw intellect can’t be the answer to every problem we face.

Tomorrow I fly home to Abilene.  The good news is the plane windows aren’t made of glass.  I don’t think that Plexiglas is a liquid.  If you know different, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to think about it.

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