On the morning of Tuesday, August 6, 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out onto a wire that was suspended between the rooftops of World Trade Center Towers, and took a walk…a quarter of a mile in the air. He didn’t tip toe for a few seconds, or steady himself with shifts and drops against the winds that plied the space between the towers. No, he walked back and forth, for a total of 40 minutes, most certainly defying death. And he did it with joy. He danced, he jumped, he reclined and stared peacefully at the sky on his back on a steel wire about an inch in diameter.
He was happy.
We all aspire to something great, or at least something better than we currently experience. Olympic athletes are high-performance beasts who understand the power of visualizing achievement and victory, and using that as motivation to greater heights. But rarely would they be in a situation so off-the-charts unimaginable, so high in difficulty level, as the idea of walking on a tightrope between two towers so high they would often get lost in the clouds.
This act, or as Petit calls it, Le Coup, is so beyond the understanding of even the greatest of thrill seekers that the New York Times wrote an article describing it as art. The article quotes Colum McCann who wrote a novel called “let the Great World Spin” based on this act, and claimed that Petit “has the commitment and consciousness of an important artist.” His work “takes place primarily in the brain. The body follows the brain. He outthinks his body. And he takes over new spaces. He reappropriates public space. He turns our public spaces into things that we have to think about again.”
Was Petit’s Coup a piece of performance art? Was it an act of incredible athleticism? It doesn’t matter as it must inspire all who walk this planet.