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Man on a Wire

Man on a Wire

Can you imagine taking this step?


On August 7th, 1974, Frenchman Philippe Petit made history with one of the most extreme high wire performances of all time. I had heard about this a long while back (his story was made into an Academy Award winning documentary film called “Man on a Wire”) but it wasn’t until last week’s 9/11 media attention that I really discovered him and what he achieved. It took him and a small team of friends six years to plan and execute the stunt. Not only would he need to summon the courage to get out on the wire, but they would need to hide out in the (still under construction) upper floors of the World Trade Center, evade guards for hours and shoot arrows between the towers to secure the cable which took seven hours. By the time the cable was ready they had already been up all night and were exhausted.

By the time he got to the middle of the wire he was elated (you can see it in these extraordinary pictures in the video below). He jumped up and down on it, walked forward and backwards and even laid down on his back with one leg dangling over. This went on for 45 minutes! Until the police threatened to pluck him off with a helicopter.

“Death was so close,” he said. Half an inch misstep or a quarter second lapse in concentration would end his life, pure and simple.

Although I believe there are probably better ways to dedicate such extreme talent and energy, how can anyone not be astounded at his courage and total dedication to his vision? It got me thinking and here are the lessons I'm able to derive from it:

  • If you will it: The Sages state that nothing stands in the way of the will. He had every reason on Earth to declare this mission a literal impossibility and quit. His perseverance and drive should be a powerful message to all of us to never stop striving to achieve our own goals and dreams.
  • First dream, then plan: No one is serious about their goals until they have spent oodles of time in the planning stages. “Team Philippe” drilled and practiced and developed better and better techniques. They imagined the whole thing again and again, weeding out any flaws in the plan. Then they did "dry runs," sneaking up to the roof and making copious notes on every facet of the building and its operation. We can’t say that we want certain things in life and then not follow up or take the next steps in bringing it into actuality. This is a key point post High Holidays. We’ve established our vision for the New Year. Now is the time for serious planning, follow through and implementation of that vision.
  • Get partners: In essence Philippe built a small (volunteer) organization to achieve his objective. It is very important to have people around who believe in you and actively want to assist you do achieve great things. The bigger the vision, the more buy-in you’re likely to get.
  • Be willing to die for it: Okay, perhaps not literally as Philippe was. He believed that it would be a reasonable thing to die trying to achieve a feat of such extreme beauty and whereas I would disagree with that I would say that we should be willing to make great sacrifices -- of time, sleep, tranquility, etc -- to do whatever it takes to accomplish our goals. Greatness in any endeavor rarely comes from less than 100% effort.
  • Vanquish your fear: Fear kills. It kills your energy, your relationships, your happiness and your dearest desires. Our will is our innate force that can conquer our fear. To live the fullest, happiest and most meaningful lives that we can, we must all become masters of these techniques.

After the clarity of vision that comes with the High Holidays, now is the time to focus on putting our dreams into action, and taste the joy of walking on the high wire of life.

September 19, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) mike, September 23, 2010 1:14 AM

i cannot agree

i believe that to risk your life and possibly others to do something you want to do-just to do it is quite wrong. to put your life on the line-no pun-for country, family, religion or strong convictions is something for people to emulate. to hold this man up as something other than self centered and reckless is wrong.

(6) Judith, September 21, 2010 12:13 AM

Courage? Lunacy!

I think he's an idiot. Life is precious. Period. To risk his life for this nonsense is not something to celebrate.

(5) Stellan Berg, September 20, 2010 8:31 AM

The shaddow...

A wonderful story, but at the end of the documentary a sad aspect is revealed. The success went to his head, and he abandoned and disconnected from his girlfriend and the remaining friends who supported him to make his dream come true.

(4) ruth housman, September 19, 2010 9:32 PM

small (Petit in French) is big

I have to add this comment because as I read this I experienced some chill, the arrows going to and from the Towers, the comments about risk taking and death as a possible concomitant. Yes, there are these reverbs that perhaps I am not the only one in seeing in this article, about something else. We can see that life holds deep and ongoing metaphoric connects. Risk taking for a good cause does require, at times, fortitude and strength, vision, and a balancing act. What do we risk in taking a risk? Do we risk our livelihood, our families, our finances. What exactly IS the risk? I think in evaluating all of these things, we experience a great deal of angst. It is a kind of ethical decision, and in so doing, whatever we decide, is the moral high ground.

(3) Yehudis, September 19, 2010 5:27 PM

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” W. Clement Stone

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