by Ali Valdez
Sometimes crossing over from one side to another is the hardest thing to do. You have an idea, you make a plan, you think through scenarios, you hope for the best and then there is that moment of truth. Like Philippe Petit’s epic le coup, a high wire balancing act between the World Trade Center buildings, all of the preparations ultimately lead to the defining “moment.” There must always be a first step and a leap of faith. The story of Petit’s epic crossing was made into a documentary and more recently a film, The Walk. My favorite moment was when he took his first step out onto his cable holding his 55 lb. bar with a bloody foot and the century’s most profound example of concentration.
His greatest concern? His signature black turtleneck blew away when he was changing at the top of the towers. How is that for perspective?
He takes his step and freezes as a bank of fog rolls in obstructing his view of the corner of the opposite tower. He has made his move, there is no cowering or turning back, but the end point is now shrouded and remains unseen.
Don’t we certainly always come to that point, when we’ve once so clearly seen in the realms of the imagination, the vikalpa of ideation but when in play, all is lost in the unknown? We have two choices in that moment: one, we can begin to doubt ourselves. Up at 110 stories, Petit didn’t have that luxury, nor could he afford to lose his focus. Two, we can muster up the cajones to keep moving forward. We should allow ourselves moments to pause, assess, possibly reassess, but then another step must ultimately come; and another, so on and so forth. What made The Walk so impressive was that it wasn’t enough to just walk across once, but the journey is a continual cycle of deeper learning, acceptance and resolution.
The first walk for Petit was just to prove he could pull off le coup. That would have been enough for many, especially when as he made his first walk he saw the flaws in his design, like the inverted cavalettis or that he never has a chance to test both sides before walking. He turned because he felt the other tower calling him back. With each traverse, he gained ease, more confidence, felt a greater trust in the process. He kneeled, he acknowledged the wire, the sky, the beauty of the towers. As he was being harassed by policemen on either side (the voice of reason and conformity, the very bane to the dreamer and the artist), and a helicopter hovered unsettlingly close kicking up wind, he kept walking, jumping and turning, even in direct defiance to authority. As a dreamer he also knew surrender, laying down across the wire and staring into the heavens. He was at peace because he understood his sense of place and with each walk, settled deeper into the uncertainty, or what he called ‘the void.’ Resigned and no longer scared by it, he simply just began to marvel at it.
It was that moment, like Buddha under the Bodhi tree where he found his peace.
Without the high-wire and bloody foot, I feel like a woman on the wire myself. I have come face to face with the void, seen my excitement and clarity of vision become shrouded by the passing of heavy clouds, e.g. doubts. But I also know that those clouds are external and constantly moving, as all things are. We are brought into this world to find that feeling; what it’s like to be laid out peacefully on the wire, suspended impossibly high from the ground and know that change is the one thing we must only acknowledge and cannot control.
Taking that first step is hard with anything that truly matters to you. Putting yourself out there, a metal cable in the sky or writing a book, starting a business, sharing your feelings all seem like a high wire act. Vulnerability can be so thoroughly tender but equally shattering when the helicopter flies by, or everyone around you is yelling at you to walk back in.
Let’s face it, fear of failure is tantamount to falling off the wire. As in life, there is no safety net below us. We have gravity against us and won’t float like a balloon sliding out of its bundle. We also inevitably have one or two people clapping, pulling their hair and sweating, cheering us on while simultaneously managing the knots in their stomach because they want our success against these odds as much as we do.
Petit called these folks accomplices to le coup; in my mind, I call them friends and mentors.
Hopefully everyone meets their moment on the wire; understands completely there is an energy that resides in each of us that lures us out of our comforts and confronts us with our greatest fears or wildest fantasies. The first step feels hard but as the Petit’s mentor Papa Rudy states, “it’s the last three steps that are the most dangerous because you feel like you have made it when you still a little ways to go.”
This year I have walked onto the wire; I have been in the clouds, seen the flaws in the engineering, felt the stress of those in the wings and seen the wonderment of my mentors and friends. I’ve paused at the first crossing, the sun has risen and the clouds have started parting. Now it’s time to flip my pole onto my shoulders and take a spin around walking the next high-wire one step forward at a time. I am a woman of purpose and thus I must walk. And walk, so on and so forth.