Okay, I swear this happened.
I am driving to Spec’s to buy a really expensive bottle of champagne to share with Gail Allen, my friend and employer of fifteen years, because we were finally going to celebrate my book contract.
That’s what you would have seen if you were recording my movements with a video camera: a woman driving, parking the car and going into a store.
What you couldn’t see was the debate going on in my mind: I am wondering if it is time to leave this job in order to devote myself more fully to the job of being a writer. For more years than I can count, I have juggled three part-time jobs plus being a single mother plus writing. One part of me said this contract was a huge yes and adding it to pile of things I did might not be in my (or the book’s) best interest. Another part of me countered with how I had added in pursuing my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts successfully so I should be able to add in launching a book and writing the next one, right? It was a ping pong match in my head. Should I let it go? Should I stay?
After purchasing the champagne, I got back in the car and, in an effort to tune out the mental gymnastics, turned the radio on. A man with a French accent was speaking:
“I leave the balancing pole. I approach the edge. I step over the beam. I put my left foot on the cable. The weight of my body raised on my right leg, anchored to the flank of the building. Shall I ever so slightly shift my weight to the left, my right leg will be unburdened, my right foot will freely meet the wire. An inner howl assails me. The wild longing to flee. But it is too late. The wire is waiting decisively. My other foot sets itself onto the cable. Faith is what replaces doubt in my dictionary.
“It’s interesting, because when I put one foot on the wire, I have the faith, the certitude that I will actually perform the last step. If not, I will run away and hide in cowardice, you know. So you cannot have a project, a goal if you don’t have faith. If not, it will be like, oh, I hope one day, you know, the success will fall from the sky and, you know, I’ll be there to receive it. It doesn’t work like that, in my opinion.”
Philippe Petit talked to me the entire drive to Gail’s house.
By the time we uncorked the champagne and held the glasses towards each other, my foot was on the wire. Gail toasted my perseverance and dedication and told me how my journey is an inspiration. We took a sip. We hugged. She had been a single mother, gone to graduate school, created her own business. She knew what working hard toward a goal and reaching it means.
I said, “I have to stop working for you.”
My other foot left the flank of the building. Just as Petit had predicted, I heard the inner howl. “Take it back. Don’t leave.”
I kept silent. Gail and I looked at each other. The only sound was the bubbles fizzing in our glasses.
Holy crap. What had I done? Fifteen years, I had managed her practice. We had become friends. I didn’t want to leave her. The comfort of her practice. The steady income. I howled inside.
Then Gail laughed. I laughed. We cried. If someone had been running the video camera, they probably would have set it down in disgust and told us to figure out what scene we were playing. Or maybe they would have hung in there and taped every second of this most extraordinary of human moments: when we feel about fifteen emotions at once, when we get bigger because we feel so much, when we hold onto each other and know that whatever happens, if we expand, if we love, if we don’t contract in fear, all will be well. All will be well.
For next three hours, we laughed and cried. We danced on the wire between our old lives and whatever lay ahead.
If you want to check out the full talk by Philippe Petit on the TED Radio Hour at National Public Radio. Click here.