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In 1974 tight rope walker Philippe Petit illegally strung and crossed the Twin Towers in New York on a high wire, 1,350 feet in the air with no net.

He and a few friends hid out in the World Trade Center overnight and then attached their wire in the morning with a crossbow device. 

It was a feat so magnificent that, in 2008, 40 years after Petit’s achievement, they made a movie about it: Man on a Wire. It won an Academy Award.

But it’s his lesser-known story I find more interesting… 

In a Ted Talk, Petit told the crowd that it’s less about the height of his walks and more about the two things he’s connecting. He wants his walk to mean something to him or to those who are watching. 

In 1987 he was invited by the mayor of Jerusalem to hang his wire across the Hinnom Valley and open the Israel Festival. 

For this to mean something, he chose his start and end points carefully.

He placed his wire between the Arab quarter and the Jewish quarter because he knew the two groups were fighting. And on opening day, with nearly 80,000 friends and enemies watching, he began his high-wire walk.

Everyone was nervous. He was nervous, of course. But so were all the bystanders. A fight could break out at any time. Given the volume of people and high tensions, it surely would have been deadly. But then a funny thing happened…

In the middle of the rope, like a magician, he produced a dove and set her free. A sign of peace. Only the dove didn’t fly. She flapped her wings and took quick refuge on his head. The crowd roared in laughter.

Petit reached up and brought her down, still balancing on the wire. He tried again but again the dove did not fly. Her wing was broken. She made it to the end of his balancing pole and sat there. The crowd thought this was even funnier than the first attempt.

A third time – this time exhausted because he’d been balancing on a wire the entire time — he knocked her off and she landed on the wire behind him. The crowd cheered.

Worried that he no longer had the strength to get the rest of the way across the wire, he took a small step forward. And this is the part I love…

Somebody somewhere started to clap in unison with his steps. Step, clap. Step, clap. Pretty soon the entire valley was clapping together for the man on a wire with a bird who can’t fly. 

They put aside all their differences and joined together to laugh and encourage.

Was it the ending Petit predicted and prepared for? No. 

It was better. 

And that’s what’s so great about travel writing and photography – even if you end up with a different ending, the journey to get there is fun. It means something. You grow as a person every time you travel and meet new people. Even in your own hometown, discovering it again as a travel writer, a little piece of you changes.

The ending is often different (and better) than you imagined.

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