I’ve never been much of a sports fan. I couldn’t understand the investment others made in attaining savant levels of knowledge about championship history, player statistics, and franchise migration. Frankly, I decided it was all some kind of cultural sickness. When I went to Iraq, my friend and sometimes mentor Francisco Gonzalez sent me a book that changed all that. On The Unseriousness of Human Affairs, a series of essays by James V. Schall, explores the value in things the modern mind regards as inconsequential.
Fr. Schall taught me to appreciate sports and games, not only as a participant but as a spectator. The male physique built and conditioned to consistently throw a leather ball 80 yards with pinpoint accuracy, while darting away from 300-pound men trying to knock him to the ground; the human reflexes honed to connect a wooden stick with just the right point on a small white object moving fast enough to kill a man; the integrated athleticism of a tennis player who moves and swings across her clay or grass canvas. These are wonderful to behold, in many ways like Michelangelo’s David or a masterful symphony performance.
So I avoid the temptation to poo-poo feats like Skywire, in which Nik Wallenda walked across the grand canyon on a tightrope. What’s the point, other than to watch some attention-starved performer risk his life for no discernible gain? I would have said that once, too. But Wallenda wasn’t just brave — he was skilled. He trained and strove and developed to achieve a level of capability virtually unmatched on the planet — an uncommon blend of balance, reflex, strength, endurance, and resolve.
So what’s the point of this spectacle? Well, what’s the point of sailing, or figure skating, or chess? The point is that we imperfectly point to glory. Beauty in creation is a good, and we are part of that creation. In our fallen state, Adam’s race is a mere shadow of the glory that awaits us, glory of which we have the greatest foretaste in the body and blood of our Older Brother. The stars and rivers and sunsets of this world display God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature.” Perhaps we can too.
Of course, a guy walking on a wire over a canyon is hardly a Brandenburg Concerto or the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Maybe some things really aren’t worth the risk or are just vulgar showboating. But I can barely walk from one room to another in a straight line, and looking out of a 3rd story window makes me a little queasy. If you have impeccable balance and no fear, then maybe this is just a silly stunt to you. But I’m content to admire this feat of human ability and look forward to a day when fear and injury are erased from our world.