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Archive for the category “Doing it Differently”

Walking The Straight And Narrow

Suddenly with the wind gusting to new heights he went down to one knee.  In that moment he seemed so helpless as something completely out of his control had threatened to destroy his dream.  It was a dream to walk across the Grand Canyon that Nik Wallenda first had as a teenager.  It was an attempted feat that he had dedicated to his great grandfather.

Carla Wallenda, Karl Wallenda, Raymond Chitty, and Richard Guzman (Carla’s husband). Ca. 1965
Great grandfather Karl Willenda was born in Germany in 1905 to an old circus family and began performing at the age of 6.   He answered an ad  in the newspaper while in his teens for a hand balancer with courage.  Through the years Karl would show the world just how courageous he was.  His employer taught him the trade so well that in1922, Karl put together his own act with the help of his brother Herman, Joseph Geiger, and Helen Kreis, a teenager who would eventually become his wife.  The act proved very successful as it toured Europe doing amazing stunts!  In 1928 John Ringling saw them perform in Cuba and was so impressed that he hired them to be part of his Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  The act had it’s start in Madison Square Garden.  The safety net that they used had been lost in transit, so they performed without one.  The crowd gave them a standing ovation for their death defying show.  In Akron Ohio the group all fell off of the wire, but nobody got hurt.  It seemed to the onlookers that the Willenda’s fell so gracefully that they were given a nickname that would stick “The Flying Willendas”. 
In the years to follow Karl developed some extraordinary acts such as the seven person chair pyramid in 1947.  Through the years they continued to entertain the world with their daring feats.  In 1962 tragedy struck.  While attempting the pyramid stunt at the Shrine Circus in Detroit, the front man on the wire lost his balance and the pyramid collapsed.  Three men fell to the ground.  Killed were Richard Faughnan, Wallenda’s son in law; and his nephew Dieter schepp.  Karl injured his pelvis, and his adopted son Mario was paralyzed from the waist down. 

Karl Wallenda

Karl Wallenda

In spite of these setbacks Karl went on.  He continued performing with a smaller group, and doing acts alone.  He repeated the pyramid act in 1963 and 1977.  In 1970 Wallenda crossed the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia on a high wire.   On March 22, 1978 Karl Wallenda fell to his death.  He was attempting to walk between the towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel, 10 stories up.  He was 73.  Karl has several branches of grandchildren still performing regularly today.  They have achieved recognition in the Guiness Book of Records.
Nik Wallenda completed the walk that Karl didn’t on June 4, 2011, with his mother, in honor of Karl.   Last year Nik was the first aerialist to walk directly over Niagara Falls, from the United States to Canada.  He crossed the river’s widest point wearing a safety harness as was required by ABC television.
Last Sunday Nik Wallenda attempted to become the first aerialist to walk directly over the Little Colarado River Gorge.  The event was broadcast live on the Discovery Channel.  A 2 inch thick wire was suspended 1500 feet above the river.  Nik would be attempting the walk without a harness or safety net.  The distance was figured to be 1,400 feet between the cliffs.
Nik Wallenda walking over Niiagara Falls

Nik Wallenda walking over Niagara Falls

When I heard about the event that very day I had no intention of watching.  I thought if someone was going to be stupid why should I get involved?  My wife was watching as I went into the computer room to get away.  After a few minutes she called out “you really should come and see this.”  Reluctantly I came in and the sight and sounds were surprising. They had hooked up a microphone to Nik and as he was walking step by little step he was in a deep conversation with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  Each step of the way he was offering praise and worship.  It was like listening in to someone’s deep personal communication with God and it was beautiful!  If you closed your eyes you would have never realized the danger he was in.  He was also in contact with his earthly father who was talking to him through an earpiece encouraging him with every step and warning him of dangers ahead.

Nik Wallenda looks over the 2 inch wire cable he would be risking his life on

Nik Wallenda looks over the 2 inch wire cable he would be risking his life on

Later I watched a replay of the show that led up to the event.  They were showing all of the preparation that went into the engineering that made the walk possible.  It involved drilling into rocks and running that cable through them.  It involved getting the right weight and thickness for the chord.  It involved stretching that chord over the 1,400 feet and making sure it was tight and secure.  The process was facinating because it set the stage for the main event.  Without everything perfectly set up there was no chance that Nik could get across.
So there Nik was on one knee asking God to calm the wind.  He stayed down for just a little while and suddenly he was back up.  He tried to be patient waiting for the tenseness in the line to return.  Carrying a balancing rod he kept putting one foot in front of the other in a perfectly straight line as he praised his God!  The camera sometimes shifted to his feet and I could see the precision of his steps.  Each step was a feel for the rope and then the foot securely finding it. 
Of course most of us watching ask ourselves why?  Why would someone risk everything in a stunt as millions watched.  It didn’t take long as I first saw and heard him up there to possibly understand.  What a testimony he portrayed to millions!  When does someone get a chance to witness to millions at a time?   Psalms 23 states that “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”. There was no doubt that Wallenda felt comfort in God’s hands in the midst of the danger!
As I was thinking about Wallenda’s walk on the 2 inch wire I was reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7 verses 13 and 14.  “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the road and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”.  In the end aren’t we all in a spiritual sense walking Wallenda’s walk in life?  Aren’t we all on a spiritual tight rope with Jesus representing the bridge between us and the Father and all other ways ending in destruction? The good news is that the bridge is engineered perfectly sound for us to cross over without fear!
They showed a long range view and Wallenda was three quarters of the way across.  I could see his little figure with the background of rocks behind him, slowly advancing.  He had taken another knee a ways back and now he was steadily proceeding!  One step in front of the other he was almost home.  When he got within twenty feet of the end he took four fast hops.  The quick change of pace startled me but here he was safely on the other side greeted by his awaiting family!  Maybe that is how life ends for Christians.  Maybe after the toils of life’s burdens we suddenly run to our God and awaiting loved ones as the victorious journey ends!   The first thing that Nik did was walk over and kiss the solid ground he
was now standing on.  Spiritually he was on solid ground all of the time!

Jose Can You See?

Ernie Harwell, the great longtime Detroit Tiger’s radio announcer didn’t know that when he was asked to pick the three singers for the 1968 World Series at Tiger Stadium, one of his selections would almost cost him his job.  Ernie had written some recorded songs in his spare time and General Manager Jim Campbell entrusted him with the search for singers.  Jim Campbell was a very conservative don’t rock the boat type of General Manager.  One of the performers that Ernie picked was Marvin Gaye and Gaye was specifically told to keep his singing as straight as possible to how everyone else had sang the song.  Margaret Whiting was also picked and she did a traditional version.  The third person Ernie picked was somewhat by default.  He wanted Eddie Arnold to do the anthem before game 5 but Eddie had another engagement and couldn’t make it.  Ernie was told by a friend in the record business in Hollywood about Jose Feliciano.  “I saw this guy and I think you will really love his rendition!”  Feliciano had a big hit at the time, his rendition of The Doors “Light My Fire.”  He was a young Puerto Rican man and he was blind.

Ernie Harwell

Ernie Harwell filled the job openings and kept his main job!

Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, on September 10, 1945.  He was permanently blind at birth as a result of congenital glaucoma.  His family was very poor as his father, a farmer could barely support them.  He was exposed to music at a young age and always loved it!  When he was five, his family moved to Spanish Harlem, New York City.  He started in music playing the accordion until a family friend gave him a guitar.  With that guitar in hand he practiced sometimes as much as 14 hours a day as he listened to 1950’s rock n roll.  He developed his own style and at age 17 he quit school to play in clubs with his first professional performance in Detroit.  In 1963 he played in clubs around the USA and Canada, most notably at Greenwich Village New York and British Columbia.   In 1964 he came out with his first single “Everybody Do The Click” which became the #2 hit in the Philippines and in 1965 he recorded his first album.

By 1968 Jose had moved to Los Angeles and had a big hit “Light My Fire” which he did in a Latin style.  By the summer of 1968 it had reached #3 on the US pop charts with over a million copies sold in the US market!Feliciano

Harwell contacted Feliciano and Jose was thrilled to be picked to do the song!  Jose loved America and the wonderful opportunity he had here.  He came here a poor boy and was seeing the success and rewards that only in America he could have!  He was determined to put everything he felt for a country that he loved into his song!  He would sing it with soul and feeling because that is how he expressed himself!  The only problem that he had was his schedule.  He was playing late the night before but that was OK!  He was so thankful for the opportunity and for what this great country did for him that he took the red eye flight and arrived early that morning!  Ernie met him, his wife, and his seeing eyed dog at the airport and drove them to the stadium.  He visited the Tiger clubhouse and sang little songs to the Tiger players.  He was playing the Light My Fire song and adding his own Tiger words like “Cmon Kaline light my fire. Gotta take the Tigers higher.”  The players loved him and the time passed quickly.

Feliciano was a young man who loved this country!

Feliciano was a young man who loved this country!

Before he knew it game time was near and he was being led out to the outfield with his dog to sing the National Anthem.  He strummed his guitar beautifully as he sang the song with feeling and soul,  but it was different than what people were used to.  Although Jose was just putting himself into the music many fans complained.  From coast to coast complaints came in that he was being disrespectful of the flag and the song!  The controversy came directly to Harwell who was asked time and again why he chose Jose.  Harwell defended Jose saying that it was a different rendition but it was done with the utmost respect for our country.  However we were going through different times that year.  We were in a war and people were very sensitive to anything that seemed out of line.

Ernie got reprimanded by Campbell but didn’t lose his job.  Jose on the other hand went through a down time in his career for a couple of years.  He had a hard time getting his records played. Over the years Harwell and Feliciano stayed in touch.  Ernie actually introduced Jose to his wife he married in 1982.  They are still together today!  When Ernie revealed that he was suffering from terminal cancer in the Fall of 2009 Jose and his wife Susan sent him a beautiful boquete of flowers!  Ernie in turn wanted to right a wrong that had happened so many years ago.

In September of 2009 after Ernie had learned of his terminal illness he had a meeting with owner Mike Ilitch and team president Dave Dombrowski at his house in Troy.  Ernie was at peace with himself and the fact that he was secure in where he would spend eternity.  The one thing on his mind though was the circumstance years ago.  Jose Feliciano should have been appreciated for his rendition of the national anthem instead of the boos he heard.  He made a suggestion almost in jest to have Jose Feliciano come back and sing the national anthem again.  To the Tigers credit that is exactly what they did.  It was just after Ernie’s death and they were paying tribute to him before the game.  As a tribute to his lost friend Jose came!  Just as he was excited the first time to sing about a country that he loved, this time he was excited because he was also singing it in memory of a friend he had grown to love.  He sang the same song in the same unorthodox way with so much feeling! It was almost a duplicate copy of his first rendition forty two years earlier, yet this time he got a standing ovation!  What made the difference in the way his 2010 rendition was received?  It was our realization all of these years later of the true intent of a young blind singer so many years ago.  He wasn’t disrespecting our country or the flag!  He was giving them his ultimate respect as he put his heart and soul into the song!   Jose Feliciano was blind and yet it was the ones who had their sight  in 1968 that had the affliction.  Being blinded to the truth is far worse than being physically blind.  The standing ovation forty two years later showed that the truth has been embraced and we are not living in darkness anymore.

Jose was asked to sing the Anthem before the opening NLCS game!  How things have changed!

Jose was asked to sing the Anthem before the opening NLCS game in 2012! Fireworks exploded as he sang about the bombs bursting in air and jets flew overhead as the song ended to a huge applause!  How things have changed!

Click below to see a video nobody would have dreamed we would see forty five years ago!

Who would have predicted this video?

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