Thinking about Philippe Petitt

This morning I came off my bike and ended mashed up just a little. As a result I had a quiet day and completed a novel by one of my favourite authors Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin. A central motif in this story of redemption is that of Philippe Petitt walking a tight rope between the Twin Towers in 1974.

McCann wrote the novel as a means of working through his personal response to 9/11. It seems to me that 9/11 created a significant shift in terms of society’s general fearfulness in custom and practices. Ironically today also saw an irrational and fatal shooting incident in Arizona, obstensibly the target being a popular, balanced and people-oriented Democratic congressman, Gabrielle Giffords.

On-line news and opinion have analysed, explored, and probed the significance of the incident. One story I thought was wonderful was that of Ilene Thompson who drummed outside Gifford’s office in a steady rhythmic beat as a expression of support for the group protesting against the rhetoric of hate and violence permeating political discussion in the US.

This argument is discussed in the NY times article The End of an Era of Intolerance, or Just the Beginning It discusses politicians’ use of violent verbal and visual metaphors  oblivious to the effect that such discourse can have on the cultural pysche of a society.

At the same time as following the discussion of the Arizona shooting I read an interview with Philippe Petitt who is communicated as an extraordinary person. Despite many offers he refused to profit from his theatre between the Twin Towers in any way and currently lives a simple life. He said he lives his life “to try to do what is beautiful and meaningful to do”. What a wonderful way of looking at life. He also says “I devour life with an impetuous joy, and I’m trying to be happy. But I am sometimes very unhappy, because many things don’t go the way I want, and I am very critical of my own work. It would be great to go through life always happy, but it’s probably better to have a shifting. That’s more life-like. So, I am not perpetually happy, but I am a joyful energy of living, and that is with me all the time.”

So my gratitude to this day is as follows: I have learnt that the motif of a man on a tight rope can be more powerful that a plane colliding into a tower, and furthermore I can choose which one will resonate with me;  I have reconfirmed my belief in the power of language, particularly metaphor to impact beliefs and behaviour; and I think Petitt’s philosophy, ‘a joyful energy of living’ applies to everyone who tries to be a better person in the plentitude of ways there are to be better.

About labcswmn

I am a Senior School English and Media teacher and an ASCTA Silver Licence swim coach. I have two children and four grandchildren, all of whom are wonderful and my life purpose is to rage, rage, against the dying of vitality.
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