I was both happy and sad to read this NYT article about a recent performance by Philippe Petit in Washington Square Park. Happy to know he's still practicing his art; sad to know I missed it. I've been captivated by his famous tightrope walk between the Twin Towers 31 years ago this month since I first learned about it in the final episode of Ric Burns' documentary New York, the one called "The Center of the World" about the WTC. Later, I read with great interest Petit's own exhaustive illustrated account of the preparation and execution of his famous illegal stunt, which now feels like so much more than a mere stunt, in the 2002 book To Reach the Clouds.
By his vision, he humanized the towers for all those who knew of or learned of his feat. He took their natural movements -- for all tall buildings move with the wind, lest they snap -- and taught them to dance. He took two monolithic business-like objects and turned them into a stage for play.
My favorite moment from his walk was when Petit stopped in the middle of the wire and lay down and stared up at a bird flying nearby. Just hearing that he actually lay down in the sky is amazing enough, but then I turned a page of the book and there he is in a photograph taken from one of the towers, so impossibly high above the city and yet so at peace. All the horrible pictures of these buildings and their people that were to come years later, they cannot be erased. But if I were to imagine the absolute opposite of all that horror, it might look something like that: one man, quiet and resting, held up by the work of many other men and women, enjoying a moment of sublime alignment.