August 7th marks the 37th anniversary of Philippe Petit’s walk across the air between the then-under construction Twin Towers.
Petit is a Frenchman who made his living busking—juggling, performing acrobatics, and tightrope walking on the boulevards of Paris first, then New York City when the Towers were just going up. Petit’s zany plan was to string a wire between the rooftops of the Towers and stride across. And he did with the help of a few friends, to the consternation of police officers who arrested him, and the awe of the crowd below, which he would later entertain for free as punishment.
Petit’s act has all the positive qualities that make the United States mythical and attractive.
It was daring, illegal, and playful. When the officers rushed to the side of one roof to proclaim his arrest, Petit simply walked back out in the air, waiting for any one of them to come put on the cuffs.
It was foolish cowboy bravado. Petit climbed the Towers because they were the biggest thing around, and he knew he could do it. “They called to him.” Damn the odds and the admonishments: Trust in yourself.
It was the pinnacle of an aspiring immigrant’s story (physically anyway. You could argue for other types of peaks) that placed another talented import in the history books.
In one month, the United States will come together for the 10-year commemoration of the worst international attack on domestic soil in much of the nation’s memory. Rituals will abound and all should take part in some way—from silence to song, prayer to poetry, discussion to drama.
The day could be one of sober reflection, now that ten years have passed, tempers towards those innocents who absorbed the rest of the nation’s anger have cooled, and the “leader” of the now-crumbling organization responsible for 2,977 murders is himself dead.
Blame can be endlessly assessed. Responsibility is something reason, honesty, and time can provide. Closure is, of course, most elusive.
If it comes at all, closure could arrive through the unexpected, holistically healing methods art provides. There are a number of events, from the local to the international, designed to invite reflection on the attacks of September 11. Some will remember and engage in ways that challenge personal comfort levels; others will adhere to familiar scripts. One remembrance is sponsored by Split this Rock, which has issued an open call for “poems that mourn, rage, imagine, speak out for a new future.”
Like Philippe Petit pirouetting more than 100 stories above the Earth, our emotional balance may be assailed by massive forces, voices, that seek to sway us, but could topple and destroy us in their enthusiasm.
Calm focus is what kept Petit from falling that day. Calm focus and a belief in his own abilities.
It is worth recalling this September and beyond, worth listening to the opinions of others, whether they be easy to hear or not. It is worth believing in ourselves as a country, our positive foundation and potential promise. Believing not blindly, but soberly as we soar, as we listen to each other together.