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Nik Wallenda: Evangelist, not hero

July 1, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
Reset your wayback machine for last Monday and you’ll get pretty much what I intended to say then but decided to allow to sit on the back burner, simmering for a week.

I had debated about watching the Nik Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon (doesn't matter to me it wasn't in the national park, it was just scary high and long) on June 23. Something struck me about watching a man potentially dying for entertainment of the masses as being just a little sick. One friend said “It’s voyueristic. Avoid it.”

Others thanked me for reminding them it was on when I posted my dilemma on Facebook.

My son was all set to watch it. He got the family to tune into the pre-walk warmup show and I figured the engineering alone made this thing interesting. Pendulums hanging below the wire kept the cable from twisting. Big anchors driven into the ground at either end. Sort of makes the whole thing like a one-strand suspension bridge.


And then it dawned on me that it was more than a little hypocritical of me to denounce the thing as pop culture death watching.

After all, I am an auto racing fan who has defended himself forever against the “you just watch it for the wrecks” bozos.

Indeed, I had watched the entire 24 Hours of LeMans, which had concluded just a few hours before Wallenda’s walk. And the race had a pall cast over it this year with the death of a young Aston Martin driver about 10 minutes in. I didn’t stop watching for a second.

A wing walker had been killed at the Dayton Air Show on the 22nd. I always hated wing walking as creating unneeded aerodynamic drag on really cool old biplanes. But I watch airshows because there are cool planes and nerves of steel and engineering and technology and all the reasons I watch auto racing.

And I was about to watch Wallenda. And it got impossible to turn off when he began to pray out loud with seemingly every step. And I started praying, too, really hard, in a way I should do more often for stuff that matters in my life on a day-to-day basis.

I am amazed that there wasn’t much of a backlash by the anti-prayer, anti-God types in the week that followed. Maybe that was the answer to my prayer, theologically incorrect for sure, that please, God, don’t make me have to defend myself all week against idiots who say you’re not there and use Wallenda falling as evidence. Get him across the wire, please God, I asked.

Bad prayer? Maybe so, but for that nearly 23-minute period he was up there, I was pretty sure God was listening to a lot of people, led by Mr. Wallenda himself.

I hesitate to call Wallenda a hero.

Walking across the canyon does not advance much for mankind anymore than Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mt. Everest was heroic. Larger than life, perhaps, but it didn’t advance the state of things for mankind. Neither effort saved a life, nor did it open a new frontier. Most of us are unlikely to climb Everest, and I doubt anyone not named Wallenda will want to walk a quarter mile across the Grand Canyon (or a really high canyon that is not in the national park) on a wire.

It’s not like Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic in that little one-off plane without a front window back in 1927 opened the way for transoceanic aviation to the point where it’s a routine matter of travel aboard big jets today. (As an aside, if electronic technology and the Internet had somehow advanced before aviation and we’d have been able to, would much of mankind have tuned into Lucky Lindy aboard the Spirit of St. Louis when he could have gone down in the Atlantic as easily as making it all the way to Paris?) That was heroic.

I will consider Wallenda like a pioneer, an explorer, a courageous man trying man’s limits against the unknown, the kind of man without whom mankind withers.

Mostly, I think he was kind of an evangelist, hundreds of feet in the air.

And I don’t think he should push his blessings, or my prayers, too far with any plan to walk between New York skyscrapers.


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