Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Part 4/5

Part ⅘, pages 237–284

These are the moments that define life:

“The sense of losing himself. Every nerve. Every cuticle. He hit it on the towers. The logic became unfixed. It was the point where there was no time. The wind was blowing and his body could have experienced it years in advance” (McCann 241).

I know it’s crazy, but this excerpt brings tears to my eyes. Maybe in awe, in wonder, in mourning — I don’t know. All I can do is remember a time when I was young and I went to the circus with my family. We were in the PNC arena watching the Ringling Brothers show, and amidst the clowns and popcorn and loudspeakers, I distinctly remember a white light suddenly shining on a beautiful, slender girl in the middle of the arena. She was wearing a glittering leotard and sitting with her legs crossed on a hoop, which began to ascend as she drew the eyes of the crowd. The woman began to move with her hoop, and as she curved her back and hung from her ankles and stretched as if she herself were circular, my young eyes could not believe her complete disregard for falling. I had the overwhelming sensation that she was meant to be there, up in the air. Like that was her calling, and she was fulfilling the pinnacle of her life and satisfying the utmost essence of her being by dancing with her hoop, and that nothing else she did would ever matter. I believe in God, but even if I didn’t I would have known that I was witnessing something divine. Something beyond me, or even her. Her purpose. That’s what makes me tear up when I read that excerpt. The feeling of witnessing greatness — of catching a glimpse of perfection. McCann plays with that feeling a lot in part ⅘ of his novel. He writes from the perspective of the tightrope walker walking between the Twin Towers:

“A sense of sudden height. The city beneath him. He could be in any mood or any place and, unbidden, it returned” (McCann 242).

McCann writes with a disregard for time. He kills characters in car crashes early on in the book and then brings them back, alive and well, in later chapters. His tight-rope walker reaches a point where time does not exist. His character Adelita (Corrigan’s true love) says,

“And so this is how I will leave him [Corrigan] as much, and as often, as I can. It was — it is — a Thursday morning a week before the crash, and it fits into the space of every other morning I wake into” (McCann 284).

McCann ignores time with the same fearlessness possessed my circus dancer. This serves him well, because although moments of glory are temporary, McCann makes the point that they last beyond their actuality. They continue to exist and sustain people long after they have transpired. Maybe our whole lives are building up to a single moment where we will truly shine to our greatest potential, and after that moment we are wrung dry. That perspective is only depressing if you refuse to take McCann’s position, which is that even if we only do one magnificent thing, that act will preserve and satisfy us for a lifetime.

McCann would agree with this line from Steel Magnolias.

Part ⅘ is about glory. Glory. A word that has no regard for the past or future. A word that defines itself through action, like a silver-shimmering circus lady floating in a hoop or a tightrope walker running across a wire 110 stories up in the thin New York air. A word we all hope to achieve — but what I wonder is whether we have any control over something that seems beyond/higher than us. Sometimes, even by commenting on glory, I think we can achieve it, and McCann did in this section. Another commentator, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote a poem about Glory called Pied Beauty and it goes like this:

“Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.”

At this point in the novel, it just feels like everyone is where they are supposed to be — fulfilling their purposes. Corrigan is with God. Lara is away from her husband. Tillie saw her babies. Adelita is in her Thursday morning. Soloman is behind his judge’s stand. The tightrope walker is suspended in midair. Glory be to God for their temporary balance. Glory be to God for the permanence of their brief lives.

813 words.

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