Faith on a Rope

The Great Blondin

In the middle of the 19th century, a short, French-born acrobat amazed crowds as he walked across Niagara Falls on an 1100 foot-long tightrope. The rope was 3 1/4 inches in diameter and strung 160 feet above the swirling waters below. Each trip across was more daring than the last.

The acrobat was born Jean François Gravelet, but he adopted the stage name Charles Blondin. News of his exploits made him a national phenomenon, and huge crowds gathered each time he attempted a crossing.

The (probably apocryphal) story goes that on one occasion he jumped off the tightrope after crossing the falls to the exclaim of the crowd. They had just seen him accomplish this amazing feat and they cheered his exploits. “Do you believe I can do it again,” shouted Blondin and the crowd cheered even louder. “Do you believe I can do it again?” and the crowd shouted his name. “Now who will hold on to me and let me carry them over?” Now that’s faith, not just belief.

In fact, Blondin did carry one person over the falls, his manager. That’s pretty amazing faith. The manager’s trust in Blondin. Blondin’s trust in his riggers, in his equipment, and in his passenger not to panic and send them both to their death.

Air Assault

I recently viewed a slightly different form of faith on a rope.

Air assault demonstration, Fort Campbell, May 18, 2019

The soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) are demonstrating how a helicopter can extract troops without landing. The helicopter hovers above the ground and lowers the rope. The soldiers are fitted with a harness that lets them clip in. The helicopter lifts the entire group and flies off with them dangling like lures on a fishing line.

Do I believe that a group of people can dangle from a rope and fly suspended beneath a Blackhawk helicopter? Absolutely, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Do I want to do it? No thanks. I’m glad that there are young men and women who trust the pilot, the helicopter,  their team and their equipment enough to train for this possibility.

Grab the Rope

One last story. When I was a young teenager, I was a member of the Boy Scouts of America. On a camping trip to a state park in Missouri, a group of us came across a drunken man who had fallen half-way down a cliff. He was precariously holding on to a small sapling growing out of the side of the cliff and screaming for help. This wasn’t the Grand Canyon, but the man was probably 30-40 feet above the ground. He was substantially larger than the plant which he was holding for dear life and every time he moved it seemed as if both would come crashing to the ground. Clods of dirt fell as he struggled to hold on.

A group of scouts made their way to the top of the cliff to see how they might help. I ran to find a park ranger. I flagged one down on the road and went with him back to the scene of the accident. The ranger climbed the hill behind the cliff, secured a rope around a large tree and lowered it to the desperate man, who then refused to take hold of it. In his fear, he wouldn’t let go of the sapling to grab the rope that would lower him to safety. It seemed like it took forever to convince him to release his death grip on the vegetation that would soon fail him and to take hold of of the rope that could save him. Only the rope was the way of life