THERE ARE FEW times in life when we experience absolute clarity.

Normally, with the unrelenting rush of time, we live more from a sense of accidental encounter than with a plan, our decisions prompted by necessity instead of resolve. When that pattern is interrupted by an unexpected revelation, we stop and take note.

Recently, I experienced such a moment, a searing flash of certainty that changed the direction of my life: Under no circumstances will I ever walk on a high wire.

This summer’s Folklife Festival in D.C. featured the Flying Wallendas, a family of circus performers with a 200-year-old legacy of defying death high above ground uncluttered by unsightly things, such as nets. They perform in massive arenas, including three-ring circuses (circi?), their legendary mental focus undisturbed by the elephants on their left or zany clown cars to their right.

The Folklife Festival, however, presented more of a challenge to their concentration since, at any given time, no fewer than eight different venues—each with its own blaring sound system—were competing for attention. While Wallenda family members walked across a high wire with no net, an amplified voice from a demonstration in the next tent spoke of culinary techniques for outdoor cooking. The contrast was disturbing.

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