Sunday
Jun232013

Nik Wallenda and Balance

The Sarasota daredevil's biggest walk yet is tonight near the Grand Canyon, and so here are 25 things I underlined in his new book, which I read while reporting the story that ran in yesterday's Tampa Bay Times:

1. My earliest and strongest memory is stepping out on the wire with the absolute conviction that I would walk across it.

2. As a young child, I loved fairy tales. I looked at the Wallenda family saga as something of a fairy tale. Karl Wallenda, the man who excited my imagination, was a hero. He remains so to this day. I continue to derive sustenance from his never-say-die example of optimism. I never tire of quoting his manta: "Life is on the wire; everything else is just waiting."

3. The television commentators called it the fault of a thirty-mile-an-hour wind.

"It's not the wind," said my father. "It's the rigging. I can see it from here. The rigging is wrong."

4. This is the moment when fear is introduced into my consciousness. The fear has nothing to do with falling from the wire. It has nothing to do with perilous stunts or wild circus animals. The fear has everything to do with money. In my parents' faces I see anxiety that comes with the most primal fear of all -- Can we survive?

I hate that feeling of fear. I don't want to know it.

5. Every day I improve. Every day I practice. Every day I ask Mom and Dad to evaluate my progress. They are generous with their praise and exacting with their critiques. The older I get, the higher they raise the stakes -- literally. The wire is always going up. Walking the wire becomes more comfortable for me than riding a bike.

6. I wonder how much of my energy as a boy -- and even as a man -- is based on that psychological phenomenon that has me turning fear to energy.

7. I've been walking the high wire since I turned thirteen but, given the tradition of circus hyperbole, my folks make sure that I have several debuts in several cities. Early on I learn the importance of promotion.

8. The dreams come in a thousand different versions. Sometimes Karl is the central character and sometimes he is absent. But they all involve fantastic feats. They all involve wire and cable. They're all about walking over ragged rocks or roaring rivers or great gorges or canyons filled with fire.

9. I want to live my life on the wire. But I know what I have to do. I have to make money.

10. We wait a few seconds so the audience can cherish the drama.

11. Rather than fight the waves, we must move with them -- side to side, up and down. We must let them ever-so-slightly bend us without breaking us.

12. "I ride a motorcycle across the wire."

"Not spectacular enough."

"What do you want?" I ask.

"Something that will make news. News that will draw crowds."

"Like doing something that's never been done before?"

"Now you're talking."

13. No, I don't believe that God's invisible hand is holding me up on the wire. ... But yes, I do believe that I am strengthened by the steadiness of my faith. I do believe in a God whose steady love is unshakable and eternal. That belief allows me to get beyond my apprehensions and ignore what otherwise might feel like my limitations.

14. There are no safety nets beneath and we choose not to wear harnesses. Harnesses and nets are distractions.

15. Is that ego?

Yes.

But is that attitude necessary to get where I want to go?

Yes.

16. I step out on the wire, my forty-five-pound balancing pole firmly in hand. Clear sky, clear mind. Distant memories of being a boy and walking the wire when Mom and Dad would throw pine cones over my head to show me how to focus in the face of distractions. No distractions now. Just calm easy to-to-heel walking. One step, then another, and then another.

17. Naturally there is no net. There is never a net. There is the safety of a balance born of experience, a balance that is as natural as speaking or breathing ...

18. A few minutes into the walk, I pause to kneel and wave to the huge crowd below. After all, they've come out to see me in the rain. The least I can do is acknowledge their presence. I get up and start moving across. A few seconds later, though, the winds pick up, and, at that moment, I decide to stop my forward motion for a few seconds. I do this not to excite the crowd but simply to insure my balance. I'm neither nervous nor unsteady, but merely cautious. My training has taught me that pausing can be useful. I've learned never to fight the elements, but rather to bend with them. Accept them. Embrace them. Allow them to lead you and feed your spirit with quiet strength.

19. The need for the spotlight is in my DNA.

20. I've been trained to walk through storms.

21. "... aren't you defying death?"

"I'm affirming life. I'm saying that life is about risk -- and moving to the next level is about assuming risk."

22. I'm hoping that what I do lends life -- which can be mundane and boring -- a certain beauty.

23. "We risk everything."

24. I employ old theatrics with new angles and innovative approaches. I do crazy things to get attention and to entertain.

25. Let me keep walking through this vast living dream that has consumed me for most of my life ...

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