This I Believe

Drake, Alfred

  • Alfred Drake describes his belief that life is like a tight-rope act he witnessed as a child: that individuals are constantly wavering between good and evil in an upward fight against gravity, but ultimately good will win.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Alfred Drake is an actor, singer, playwright and director. It was the role of “Curly” in Oklahoma which made him a star. His subsequent successes in “Kiss me Kate” and ”The King and I”, and his performances in the comedy drama “Joy to the World” and “The Gambler” have established him, not only as a fine singer, but a versatile actor. This is Alfred Drake’s creed.
I was 7 or 8. I sat in the mezzanine. The wire ran from the raised platform on the stage to the railing of the second balcony. Up there, way up there, poised on the railing, one hand gripping a nearby post, was a man dressed in the traditional leotard. He was the aerialist, the daring young man on the tight wire, about to attempt the famous and terrible “slide for life.” The orchestra stopped playing, all except the snare drum, which rolled, threateningly. Still holding the post, the death-defier carefully fitted his feet to the tremblingly taught wire. He flexed his knees once or twice, testing the give and take of the wire, testing his weight, testing his balance.
Then, with a self-encouraging shout, the man on the wire released his grip on the post, and while we clutched our seats he slid down the wire, down over my head and, gathering momentum now, down over the yawning pit of the main floor to land, finally, safely on the little raised platform. I remember this. I remember my fear, my admiration. And I remember wondering if there wasn’t some way the daring young man could slide up the wire. Apparently I wanted him to defy gravity, as well as the grave.
I believe that man, obsessed by ambivalence, divided by duality, is the most complicated endeavor of creation. I believe that man is the highest potential of creation.
I believe that is why we are here. Created, perhaps, out of dispassionate curiosity and curious compassion, we were given the miraculous opportunity to be anything we wished. We were endowed with everything, every conceivable gift, and permitted to do as we willed, to make what we wished of our world and ourselves. We were the noblest experiment, the most complicated trial with the widest range of possibility.
I watch myself walking that tight-wire every day. I see myself inexpertly poised and precariously balanced, wavering over the void, while I try to decide which foot should be moved first. This daily testing is made up of multiple choices, an infinity of decisions that I know I must consider.
I must consider and weigh each choice, come to a decision, and, having arrived there, act upon it. I must do this even though I am wretchedly aware of possible imperfection within my own judgment, even though I know only some of my weaknesses and strengths, even though I am, like all men, imponderably capable of evil as well as good.
So uneasy is my equilibrium that there are times when I can’t even tell the important decisions from the unimportant. So I know I must try to treat them all with equal consideration, and this must be done in the teeth of self-accusation of over-solemnity, of loss of perspective, of occasional lassitude, of self-excuse.
I know I must pull my weight up the wire. I know the climb isn’t any easier or harder for anyone else. I know I am not unique or alone. I recognize my share of responsibility in creation’s great experiment.
I realize that now we are at the apex of the struggle between good and evil. We have divided atoms, and conquered elements, and originated great power, and then wondered how we were to employ this Frankenstein. We have created a force so extreme that it can either save us, once and for all, or destroy us, completely and forever. We are forcing the issue to a final decision. I know I must share the work and responsibility of that decision. I want to make the experiment worthwhile.
And I believe the highest good is not impartial, and that we can and will conquer ourselves and walk that tight-wire up to the realization of that high potential: the highest good first conceived.
That was Alfred Drake who lives with his wife and two children in New York City.