I consider myself somewhat of a book list rebel. Unless it’s Tolstoy or Zadie, I will purposely go out my way to be sure I find a book off the beaten path. I don’t know what it is; maybe it’s my own cynicism that books are experiences or that in my head I picture millions of us going through the same disingenuous catharsis all at once. But after ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ caused nearly half of the girls in my sophomore class to head to Italy or India for study abroad, I came to a great, righteous (and admittedly somewhat snobbish) abhorrence of the best-sellers’ list.
I say all that to say this: if you should pick one book off The New York Times’ Bestsellers List to read this summer, please let it be Colum McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin.”
Yes, I sat you through diatribe about those lists but in my heart of hearts I know it wouldn’t be right to let you miss this novel. Centered around Phillip Petite’s 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, McCann uses his short stories branch into different parts of New York City and the overlapping lives of his characters.
Reading through the book, I found myself stopping and highlighting nearly every other page. Chock full of great quotes, the book literally made me stop and halt after this passage about Petite’s training for his famous walk:
Tacked inside his cabin door was a sign: NOBODY FALLS HALFWAY.
He believed in walking beautifully, elegantly. It had to work as a kind of faith that he would get to the other side. He had fallen only once while training – once exactly, so he felt it couldn’t happen again, it was beyond possibility. A single flaw was necessary anyway. In any work of beauty there had to be one small thread left hanging.
It’s very possible that it was a shared catharsis, but reading those lines I felt selfish enough to believe McCann had written them just for me. While my strong calves and less than fragile frame was not made for walking tightropes, I too had a bad habit of finding myself unwilling to fall. Things needed to be completely seamless, every corner needed to be tucked in and every loose end needed to be tied. Until I had my devastating life fall, where it seemed everything had fallen with a great thud.
Looking back on it, that fall, that loose thread, has been a necessary part of my canvas. It’s been the moment I can reference in my mind as beyond possibility. Now, knowing that thread is hanging, I feel so much more at ease with where I am on the line. I’ve seen myself fall, but I’ve also seen myself get back up and know the strength that took was more than it takes to maintain.
The women who I admire the most, the ones who walking in faith and grace, carry themselves with confident poise because they too have had to get back up from a fall. Stretching out tense muscles, finding the right pattern of breath, they get back up and on their tightrope and begin again.
Today, when the thought of getting back on life’s tightrope seeks to fill you with shame, remember nobody falls halfway. Walk out beautifully, elegantly and regain your balance with each step.