Paula Williams: Was it act of courage or stupidity?

Jun. 27, 2013 @ 06:33 PM

There is a fine line between courage and stupidity, and the world may have watched an example of that this past Sunday as 13 million viewers tuned in to the Discovery Channel’s coverage of Nik Wallenda’s walk across the Grand Canyon. 
Actually, he walked across the Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon on a Navajo nation reservation because the National Park Service would not consent to his stunt occurring over the Grand Canyon proper.  Perhaps they were pondering that fine line!
Wallenda crossed the gorge in dramatic fashion, walking across a 2-inch wide wire that was 1,400 feet long and 1,500 feet high, taller than the Empire State Building!  His walk lasted about 23 minutes, and he paused and kneeled twice to stabilize the wire in 30 mph wind gusts.  Wallenda had no safety harness and no room for error.  It was cross it or die — seriously — as his wife, three children, hundreds of supporters there, and 13 million viewers looked on.
I’m not sure how I feel about his stunt.  Sure, Wallenda is a seventh generation member of the flying Wallenda family of circus fame.  His comment was that stunts like this are “in his blood.”  He also said that he wanted everyone to understand that they can do whatever they put their minds to.  Yes, that is a worthy lesson to teach our children, but is this the way to teach it?  An online comment I read following the stunt:  “Nik, you’re more man than the rest of us will ever be.  Or you’re just nuts.”
Wallenda’s great grandfather died in a similar stunt on a wire spanning two hotels in 1978 at the age of 73.  Other family members have also died performing high wire stunts.  What about his three children standing there watching?  What would have been the impact of seeing their father plunge 1,500 feet to certain death?
If you watched the live telecast, you also heard Wallenda, miked up during his walk, praying constantly as he walked.  I believe that God can and does often empower us to do the impossible, but I am not comfortable with putting God to the test with extreme and reckless behavior.
There are life lessons we can take from Wallenda’s daredevil walk, however.  We should thoroughly prepare for the tasks before us.  Preparation is key not only for teachers but for every profession.  We should tread carefully through life because the winds of doubt and fear will certainly try to blow us off course. Walking through life with an attitude of constant prayer and faith in God is essential to staying sure-footed on the “high wire” we walk each and every day.  We should consider every breath we take a precious gift from God. I just prefer teaching courage along with safety and common sense.
A quote by Nelson Mandela to consider:  “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
I saw courage happen in person just this week, and it wasn’t across the Colorado River Gorge.  It was in the swimming pool at Wesleyan Christian Academy.  Two of my grandchildren, Corrine and Ethan, conquered their fear of putting their faces in the water and took off swimming this week.  Now that is courage that is life-changing to me!  I couldn’t be prouder!
By the way:  Nik Wallenda is hoping his next stunt will be walking a high wire between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in New York City. I don’t think I can watch again!

Paula Gulledge Williams lives in High Point and teaches at Pilot Elementary School in Greensboro. Her columns appear on this page every other Friday. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.