Fascination with the Wallenda high wire walk
I’m not sure why I am fascinated with the recent high wire walk by Nik Wallenda. For some reason, the whole event has been quite mesmerizing for me. The image of Wallenda balancing himself against the backdrop of the raging rapids has been quite majestic and even poetic.
Could it be my ancestry connection with Niagara Falls?
I have family ties on both sides of the border, dating as far back as before the American Revolution. I am still in the process of piecing together this history which consists of a hodgepodge of immigrants, patriots, and even loyalists. I have several “great” grandparents buried at the infamous Oakwood Cemetery which also contains the sites of several of the stunt masters from the olden days including Annie Edson Taylor, Francis Abbot, Carlisle Graham, Maud Willard, and the three Whitney sisters. There are also graves of those unidentified souls who experienced tragedies and mishaps over The Falls. At times all that was ever found was a body part or a tattered piece of clothing.
I have mentioned in earlier blogs that my immigrant ancestors who settled in Niagara Falls at the turn of the century came from Mignano and Gimigliano, Italy. I discovered that they first lived in an impoverished area which was once referred to as “Tunnel Town” as Italians skilled in masonry were recruited to dig and construct the existing power plant. My great grandfather Francesco Salvatore had first made barrels (I don’t know if any of them were used for stunts!) and actually ended up as a flagman for the railroad. My great uncle Frank Fabiano, a shoemaker, and his son Joseph, ran a store downtown on Niagara Street for many years. The Fabianos once won first place in the 1950 Shoe Service Institution national competition in Chicago. I even ran across an old article of the Fabianos witnessing someone trying to jump into The Falls.
Another imprint is that of Dewey Jeffords, the brother of my great grandmother, Edith Jeffords Lane, who inscribed his name on the boards inside of Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, NY at the time of a restoration in 1929. My Dad likes to tell of his high school days when he gave tours at the Fort. Just about every kid who has lived in Niagara County knows the story of the ghost of the guy who got thrown down the well without his head. I don’t know which was a more dominating source of nightmares—the headless man at the Fort, or the fear of falling into Devil’s Hole whirlpool in the Niagara River.
These days my nephews work for the Maid of the Mist boat tours, my sister in the hotel industry, and my cousin’s husband and sons dressed up as characters for the Oakwood Cemetery tours.There is a certain degree of nostalgia as I now live several states away from all of the excitement.
Glued to the broadcast
So it is not a wonder that I ended up glued to the television broadcast of daredevil Nik Wallenda as he performed his recent June 15 high wire stunt across Niagara Falls.
But I was also taken in my something else: His faith through the darkness and stormy water.
Before his walk across the gorge, the television network filled viewers in on the potential dangers. We learned about his family history and past tragedy. We were briefed about the distance, the currents, the darkness, the blinding mist, the wet cable, and the changing winds. We were told that the walk downhill was actually the most difficult. The network forced Wallenda to be tethered. I guess they didn’t want a death witnessed on live television. But through it all, Wallenda remained steady, an almost supernatural calm. He did not fall or even stumble –making all question the need for a tether in the first place. When the stinging mist beat against his face, Wallenda called on Jesus and praised God.
We walk by faith and not by sight
This is so much like in our own lives when we find ourselves balancing through darkness, storms, and winds raging in all different directions. This Sunday’s New Testament reading states: “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Nik was blinded by the night and the roaring river mist. Not only did he perform a physical walk for us, but he also demonstrated a spiritual one, slowly placing one foot in front of the other as he called upon the name of God. His tether was like those of us who are grounded in our faith. It’s not a pretty sight if we should fall. We might even dangle there humiliated and in an undignified way. But at least with a tether, we are saved from death.
Nik Wallenda walked down a wire into the raging pit, but he emerged from the storm victorious. He used all of his strength to keep his balance but ultimately relied on God for help.
To me, this is what being a hero is all about.