Imagine walking on a tightrope strung between the tops of the Twin Towers in New York, a quarter-mile high in the air. A French street performer, Philippe Petit, did just that in August, 1974. He’d watched the towers be built, and decided the space between them would be perfect for a tightrope walk. He’d already done it between the steeples of Notre Dame Cathedral, so why not here in America too?
Knowing he couldn’t just walk up to the top unnoticed, he planned a disguise and with the help of some friends, spent an entire night stringing up a 5/8 inch thick wire between the towers.
Imagine being there, early the following morning, as he took his first step out on to the wire. With the city so far below, it must have seemed like he was stepping out onto the wind and sunshine alone! Having had no sleep the night before, it was probably a little like a dream.
Of course, people worried for him as he followed his dream. Police gathered on the tops of the towers and demanded he return to safety, but he casually turned and meandered toward the other side. After all, who would come out and get him?
In the children’s account of the story, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordecai Gerstein, Felipe’s experience on the wire was this:
“He could feel the towers breathing. He was not afraid. He felt alone and happy and absolutely free. …For almost an hour, back and forth, he walked, danced, ran, and knelt in a salute upon the wire. He even lay down to rest. The city and harbor spread beneath him. The sky surrounded him. The seagulls flew under and over. As long as he stayed on the wire he was free.”
Eventually, when he was totally satisfied by his adventure, he turned himself in to the authorities. A judge sentenced him to perform in the park for families. Even law enforcement couldn’t begrudge this man his amazing thirst for life. His sense of determination, awe, and simple joy.
But let’s go back to the tightrope for a minute.
I don’t know about you, but just thinking of walking one step across a 5/8 inch wire freaks me out. When it’s a wire that high above a bustling city, it makes me nauseous and a little terrified.
Not him, though. For Philippe, it was exhilaration. It was freedom.
On an average day, a lot happens to make life feel like my path is constricting before my eyes. With my two oldest daughters alone, balancing their moods, medications, appointments and meltdowns with the rest of family life often leaves me feeling like I’m walking a tightrope.
This morning, for example, I walked the tightrope trying to balance my 7 year old’s physical needs, medical issues, mood swings, and attachment insecurities, with getting the other kids ready for school, trying to provide them a peaceful start to the day, getting to school on time, and not feeling like an idiot in front of the other parents who witnessed my kid’s major meltdown.
Unlike Philippe Petit, when I’m on that tightrope, I am NOT happy about it. It’s not a grand adventure. It don’t feel free and exhilarated. My tightrope leaves me frustrated, trapped, and like my life has been reduced to a 5/8 inch thick space I’m sure to tumble from at any moment.
Recently, while complaining especially loudly to God about this, I came across this verse: “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (2 Sam 22.20). Tears filled my eyes as I read it, because it’s what I long for more than anything. To see the tightrope on which I walk my life as a broad, safe place full of possibility, vitality and dreams.
To make the shift requires a different perspective, and a trust in God that’s big enough to step out into our callings a quarter mile off the ground! How is it that Philippe felt so strong, so full of excitement, so totally free on that thin wire? I can’t answer that today. It may be years before I can. But having read his story, I can never escape it’s admonition again.
New Years Giveaway!
Because this story inspires us to dream big – a great perspective for the New Year – I’m giving away two copies of the Gerstein’s children’s tale, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, and two copies of Philippe Petit’s autobiographical Man on Wire.
To enter the giveaway, do any or all of the following. Each is one entry:
- Leave a comment for this post, telling about a time you followed your dreams like Philippe.
- Tweet about the giveaway, including my handle (@mylivingpower) so I can find your tweet.
- Write a post on your own blog about an experience in which you felt total freedom. Then come back here and leave a comment with the link to your post.
Please include which book you prefer in your entry. On Friday, I’ll announce the winners in my post for the day. Together, let’s spread a sense of hope, adventure and perspective for the New Year!
Thanks for reading!