Man on Wire: A Reflection

The documentary Man on Wire (released in 2008) received a shocking 100% from critics on, one of my most trusted sources when it comes to movie ratings. It tells the story of 24-year-old French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who is most widely known today for stringing a cable in between the World Trade Center towers and performing all kinds of acrobatics 1,350 feet in the air – one of the most miraculous performances the world has ever seen.

Man On The Wire
Man On The Wire

However, the chain of events leading up to his performance are, in a way, part of that performance. The process itself (which involved years of planning and practice, as well as tons of illegal activity) might have stuck with me more than the actual stunt- it sparked something inside of me, and filled me with inspiration and energy. A man wanted something impossible, but he wanted it so badly, that literally nothing – not even the law – was able to stop him. He put his whole life, his entire reality, into his dream. He signed his soul away to that dream, and what came out of it was unforgettable, and touched the lives of millions of people worldwide.

There were hundreds of barriers to Philippe’s success, all of which he took into account and attempted to work around or with. There were dozens of things he could not predict, and this meant that he had to rely on several different people – he had to trust that they would pull through for him. And really, that’s what life is. He was facing the challenge that is life with courage. Life is unpredictable. We don’t control what happens, and no matter how much we plan, things don’t go accordingly. We can only control how well we work around the glitches, and how we react to things going awry.

Man On The Wire
Man On The Wire

Life is choosing the ways in which our hearts will break, and then putting our hearts back together, each time tightening the screws a little bit more, and becoming a little bit stronger. Life is taking risks, whether that means putting your faith in other people, or detaching yourself from them – both of which Philippe was forced to do at one point or another.

One of the most haunting elements of this documentary was the consequence of failure for Philippe – if he were to fail, he would face death. And yet he stood up there, one foot on a tight rope, over a thousand feet in the air, experiencing something that no one else in the world will ever come close to experiencing, and smiled. He smiled, and danced, and laughed. I can only imagine what it feels like to be where he was. The future and the past must completely disappear from mind – it’s just you and an awareness of your physical body, the wind, the sounds…the entire world, quite literally, at your feet, as you stand on one of the highest man-made points on the planet. You’re at the top of the world.

Would I have the courage to dance with death? No, I don’t think I would. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. But I have to wonder….if this man was able to make it, if he was able to walk along a 200 foot long wire strung between the two tallest towers on Earth – then surely I can do anything. My goals and the goals of the average human being are not as seemingly impossible as Philippe’s, and yet we give up so easily. In addition to this, Philippe wasn’t some kind of superhuman – he just knew what he wanted, and that was what separated him from most people. Both of these facts should be an encouragement, because there was a time when Philippe did not know what a tight rope was.

Man On The Wire

Despite what he has accomplished, there was a time when he was no more capable of accomplishing anything than each of us are today. I’m starting to feel like I have been wasting my potential thus far purely because I don’t want anything badly enough. When I hit a wall, I let it stop me instead of taking a few steps back, running to gain momentum, and crashing through. I give up too easily. I have too many causes that I want to further, there are too many differences I want to make. I want too many things, and each of them, halfheartedly. I care very deeply, but that’s not the same thing as desire, and it’s not nearly enough.

I want to have the kind of desire for something that truly burns – the kind that makes the beginning of every day feel like that moment on a roller coaster when you’re leaning over the edge of the top, staring down, but not moving, just anticipating the fall. The kind that I am willing to dive into headfirst, and drown myself inside of, maybe even every day, because that feeling of total emersion feels even more like home than the taste of air. The kind of desire that is uniquely mine.

There is a beauty to the juxtaposition of rebellion and control (precision, practice, discipline, etc.) inherent in what Philippe Petit accomplished. It’s not all about being reckless, it’s about being just reckless enough to be in love with life. It’s about turning yourself into someone that is worthy of the dreams you dream. That juxtaposition – that delicate balance, if you’ll mind the pun – is something I aspire towards.

What I want is for my heart to race, but not because of anxiety, or a panic attack, or an episode of depression. I want it to race simply because I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be, not just standing at the finish line holding a medal, but working hard to fulfill my purpose, doing what I’m meant to be doing, being myself, nothing more or less, and feeling as though that is enough. I’m laughing at myself right now, shaking my head and thinking about how many words it’s taken me to convey an idea so simple.

It’s amazing what a person can accomplish when he or she combines love for something with hard work and time, and enlists help from the right people. It’s even more amazing what a person can do when he is willing to persevere through all of the brick walls that stand in their way, because there will always be walls – we live in a world that is built like a maze, and even though it’s a messy, complicated place, we are more than capable of navigating that mess, as long as we’re still moving and trying.


Personally, I absolutely love the way my heart races during a messy kiss, whether it’s spontaneous, or anticipated. I want messiness to be my constant. I want to be comfortable and familiar with challenges – at peace with them. They’re not stones that I have to step around and try not to trip over, they’re the stones that the entire path is made of that I have to learn to walk along if I wish to continue living. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Student at The Johns Hopkins University

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