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Words for a life: Philippe Petit at TED2012

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Photo: Ryan Lash

Philippe Petit is most famous for walking between the towers of the World Trade Center, but he’s done much, much more.

At TED2012, he tells a story of the campfires of his childhood. “There was a time when fire and story would fall asleep in unison. It was dream time.” And that dream here is the story of his life. And at key moments, he shared with us a word and a phrase.

“Passion is the motto of all my actions,”

At six years old he got a book of magic, and began to master the tricks. A year later, he presented a trick to a master magician, and was told he was rubbish. So, he went back and practiced for two more years.

“Tenacity is how i kept it against all odds”

He went to a circus to learn more, and saw the high-wire walkers. Inspired, he became a tight-rope walker.

“Intuition is essential in my life.”

Instead of listening to his teachers, he began to teach himself — and launched a path that would take himself to Notre Dame, and then to the top of the World Trade Center, where his first step was — terrifying.

“Faith is what replaces doubt in my dictionary.”

How do you top that? It’s not possible, but not the point. So he began doing other things, like street juggling. Acting that character, he is, “As happy as when he was in the clouds.” And so he juggles for us.

“I use Improvisation”

Improvisation is empowering because it is unknown, it allows cheating the impossible. He’s done the impossible several times.

Six years ago, he was invited to open a festival in Jerusalem by doing a high wire act. He put it between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. He decieded that, at the middle, he would to produce a dove, and send it flying. Instead of flying it landed on his head, then his rod, then his wire. At each stage he acted as though that was his intent — and the crowd went wild, and clapped in unison as he finished the walk. For that moment, “The entire crowd had forgotten their differences.”

“Inspiration: By inspiring ourselves, we inspire others.”

Petit asks us one thing as he leave, “Take this music with you, glue feathers to your arms and take off and fly and start seeing things from a different perspective. And when you see mountains, remember, mountains can be moved.”

Photo: James Duncan Davidson