The Tightrope Walker

The Tightrope Walker

Eric Van Fossen, PA-C, CH

Some time ago I was on a rather boring flight. I do not remember where I was coming from. I was trying to get home. It was a long flight with no movie but with a lot of turbulence. It was so bumpy that it prevented me from reading or sleeping. Bored to the point of distress, I engaged the gentleman next to me in conversation.

He was an immensely interesting man. He was a high wire artist; a tight rope walker. I had never met a tight rope walker before so he immediately had my full attention. Of course, the first question I asked was how in the world one does that particular act. I explained that I was unable to fathom how one could have the steely nerves to walk a tight rope, high above the ground, with no safety net.

He explained that it was not really that difficult as long as one was aware of several things and remained mindful of them during the tight rope walk. First thing was that you had to realize that the tight rope was always securely fastened on both ends. Regardless of how hard the crew worked to make the rope taut, it would always dip or bow in the middle. Even though it was a slow and careful walk, it always felt like running downhill for the first half. Conversely, the second half felt like a climb back up the hill. But the trick in the first half was to not let the sense of speed to fool you into going too fast. Regardless of where he was on the rope, it was one step at a time. He winked, “You use the bottom of your feet to feel your way to the other end.”

He went on to explain that he always kept his eyes on the horizon past the far anchor that held the rope in place. His goal was to realize he had a life beyond that far placed anchor. The walk itself would not stop at the far anchor, but rather, when he got back to his normal life. He never allowed the tight rope walk to become his life. The walk was just a process toward the rest of his life. I must have looked confused because he shrugged and said that he didn’t really understand it either. But it somehow worked for him.

He also noted that one of the more challenging parts of walking the tight rope was not to be distracted. There would always be something that he didn’t expect. The distractions could be anything. Whether it was a beautiful bird passing by, a gust of wind or a rogue helium balloon, the key was to focus past that far anchor.  The worse distraction he had once dealt with was a local news helicopter grabbing camera footage for the six o’clock news.

The sound of our plane’s landing gear engaging into the locked position indicated that I would soon be home. I thanked him for sharing his interesting life’s work with me. With respect I told him that I could not imagine walking the tight rope for a living. He shrugged and added another wink as he began to move away from me down the aisle.

“I don’t really do it for a living,” he said.

“You do it to live.”