9/11: Courage and inspiration

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Today, we’ll see the horrific images of the billowing smoke and the desperate souls jumping to their deaths. We’ll hear the voices of the doomed, leaving one last message for their loved ones. We’ll mourn the true heroes—like Eddie Calderón—who gave their lives to save strangers. Today, many of us won’t remember 9/11 as much as we’ll relive it.

I’ve heard dozens of inspiring stories about the courage people showed on that day. But today—just today—I’d like to focus on a different image of the World Trade Center:

Philippe Petit was 14 when he fell in love with the Twin Towers. They hadn’t been completed yet, but an artist’s rendering in a magazine stirred something deep within him.

The purpose of his life suddenly became clear: One day, he would walk between the 110-story towers. Or he would “die a beautiful death trying.”

I discovered the film Man on Wire by mistake last year. It was an impulsive purchase, the kind I usually regret. But instead this film has become one of my all-time favorites.

Over the past year, I’ve watched it five or six times. And although I know that it ends well, I still cringe every time Petit steps onto that wire.

It’s physically impossible for a human being to compensate for the wind—and the swaying of the buildings—at 1,368 feet (417 metres). Yet, somehow, Petit did just that. For an hour!

He danced on the wire. He jumped on the wire, and even sat and lay down. In the end, he managed to walk between the two buildings eight times.

I’ll leave the rest of the film synopsis to The Dancing Hotdogs:

A one point, the film cuts to a shot of construction workers moving large pieces of metal at Ground Zero. Instantly, your memory floods with those images of 9/11 that will never leave. A split second later, and you suddenly realize that you’re not looking at Ground Zero 2001, you’re witnessing Ground Zero 1966! This is a great example of the film’s power. The director knows there is no reason to recap what happened on that day in September, no reason to even bring it up at all. You don’t need to be reminded, it’s there in the back of your head the entire time. And this film is certainly not about tragedy and horror. It’s about hope, spirit, bravery, cunning, courage, a love of life, defiance, magic.

Those are the lessons I choose to take away from that heartbreaking day in 2001.

I don’t need to be reminded of the senseless brutality of which our species is capable, or of tragedy and horror. Instead, I’d rather focus on hope, on spirit and bravery, courage, love of life, defiance in the face of evil, and on the magic that is our very existence.

May we never forget the innocent and courageous people who lost their lives 10 years ago today … and may we honor them by making a positive difference with our own lives.

À Philippe Petit : J’admire infiniment votre courage et votre passion. Merci mille fois pour avoir suivi votre rêve. Vous êtes vraiment une énorme inspiration !


  1. Having stood on the very top of the South Tower, less than 12 months before it fell, I can appreciate the courage and accomplishment of Philippe Petit. He could have fallen to his death; but that was a risk he was prepared to take in order to realise his dream. On September 11, 2001, others fell to their deaths when all they dreamed of was going home to their loved ones.

    I said my piece on 9/11 last year (Once upon a train); but I like your call to all of us to make a positive difference in our lives. It shouldn’t be about sides, or about right versus wrong, or about gaining the upper hand; it should be about love and understanding, respecting our differences and acknowledging our similarities, and learning to live together in peace and harmony.

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