Archives for : Grand Canyon

A Nation Transfixed: High Wires and Prayers (audio available)

Nik Wallenda waves to the crowd as he prepares to cross Niagara Falls June 15, 2012 (uploaded to Wikimedia Commons using Flickr upload bot on 03:14, 17 June 2012 (UTC) by ThaddeusB)

Nik Wallenda waves to the crowd as he prepares to cross Niagara Falls June 15, 2012 (uploaded to Wikimedia Commons using Flickr upload bot on 03:14, 17 June 2012 (UTC) by ThaddeusB)

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In  1938, in the midst of the Great Depression and suffering from an ominous  foreboding of world war, America suspended the harsh realities of life to tune  into a horse race.  A small horse named Seabiscuit, whom the media called  “the cast off son of a cheaply held father,” challenged Triple Crown winner War  Admiral in the “Match of the Century.”  Millions of people around the world  listened to the race on their radio sets, and more than 40,000 jammed the  Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore to view it firsthand.  It is now widely  accepted that Seabiscuit’s victory inspired a nation in the throes of poverty, hunger, international turmoil and personal depression.

Perhaps  it was a country in a similar situation that caused Twitter to explode when  high-wire artist and daredevil Nik Wallenda appeared on Discovery Channel’s Skywire on Sunday night.  Fifteen hundred feet above  the Little Colorado River in Navajo Tribal Park just east of the Grand  Canyon, Wallenda took a life or death walk across a two inch steel cable with no  safety harness.  Discovery Channel announced that #Skywire tweets reached  over 700,000.  One tweet claimed there were one million streams of the  event on and 40,000 tweets per minute.

People frantically tweeted how nervous they were  during the event.  Many of them said they couldn’t watch anymore, but  recorded it for later viewing – to ensure they didn’t watch a tragedy.   Others remarked that they didn’t remember breathing for 22 minutes and 54  seconds — the amount of time it took Wallenda to walk the  wire.

To say that Skywire was a welcomed  distraction is an understatement.  So enthralled were people with the  event, they found it hard to switch their focus back to real life when it was  over.  In what would become a running gag on Twitter, one person tweeted  she was attempting to walk to her refrigerator, and asked for prayers.  She  continued to update followers on her progress, complete with pictures of her feet straddling the crack on her tiled  floors, eventually announcing when she had successfully reached “the fridge.”   A video in what appeared to be a dorm room showed young men walking a  makeshift high wire from one bed to another, erupting in cheers when they  bounced safely to the other side.  Another man wished everyone “Good luck  with those ‘falling’ nightmares tonight!”

Ben Shapiro of had his own observation,  “Difference between #Skywire and  NSA: One dude on wire, everyone watching. Entire gov on wire, nobody  watching.”

Even  President Obama didn’t escape being dragged into the event as someone posted a picture of him smugly thinking, “Skywire  walk? I could do that.”

The  only controversy that arose came when discussing Wallenda’s frequent prayers to  God and Jesus during his jeopardous jaunt.  One Twitter user joked that  he’d like to think Wallenda was an atheist 15 minutes before he began the walk.   (Apparently he’s never heard: “There are no atheists in foxholes.”)

The  presence of Joel Osteen made some uncomfortable, as did the family prayer  beforehand.  In a manner that exposed how far society has degraded, many  online commenters thanked Discovery Channel for not censoring Wallenda’s  personal prayers.  While it was a good message to send the network, it was more disturbing that  people thought it needed to be said.

Whether you thought he was tempting God or protected by him, internet  comments seem to indicate that more people were praying as he walked that wire  than there would have normally been on any given Sunday night.  How can  that be bad?  And wasn’t it refreshing to hear someone acknowledge the  Grand Canyon as the handiwork of God, as Wallenda did, instead of a United  Nations World Heritage site?

For  those that had the fortitude to watch, the event was visually spectacular,  featuring breathtaking camera shots.  Perhaps the most impressive view came  from a camera attached to his shirt, where we could watch his feet as they  carefully traversed the reverberating cable far above the canyon floor.

It  felt as if, for 22 minutes, much of the country sat desperately transfixed;  perhaps like they did for that “Match of the Century” seventy-five years ago.  They hoped this great feat would provide escape or inspiration.  Judging by  its reception, it succeeded in providing both.

Whether you care for their daredevil ways or not, the Wallenda’s are  an American institution that has been a mainstay of family entertainment for decades.   In our corner of the  world, we’ve watched them perform at theme parks in the Adirondack Mountains of  New York State since the 1950’s.  After one performance, my parents had  occasion to converse with both Karl (family patriarch and Nik’s deceased  great-grandfather), and Karl’s brother, Herman.  So familiar were they that  my parents could easily identify every Wallenda from that era, most of whom are  gone now.

Still, we don’t understand why they do what they do.   There is something in a performer’s blood that we on the other side of the  stage curtain will never understand.  One thing we do know is that while  there may be something macabre in tempting death, there will always be something  wonderfully grand in cheating it.

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