Parson to Person: “What Balloons Can Teach Us” April 2, 2021

As you read this, I will have celebrated my 72nd birthday on Wednesday, March 31st. (I always wished my birthday could have been on April Fools’ Day; it always seemed a better fit!)

One of the things I got for my birthday was a small bouquet of balloons. The great thing about helium balloons nowadays is that they generally last for quite a while, and frequently they’re still floating a month after the event you got them for. Of course, I help them out a bit. When one of them starts sinking lower, I cut off a bit of the ribbon or card hanging from it, and the lightened load makes the balloon go up again.

I like the balloons best when they are neither near the floor nor up by the ceiling, but floating about waist high. I forget they are there most of the time, but every once in a while I’ll see some movement out of the corner of my eye; or else I’ll feel something brush against my leg (almost like a cat)–and there it will be: a bright red or purple or silver mylar balloon. I never know for sure where they’ll be, so I get the impression that each has a mind of its own. I’ve been known to let out a cry and jump back in surprise when I open a door and see one right in front of me. (There’s even one watching me right now, over my right shoulder as I write this.)

I suppose I keep them afloat because it’s a challenge to see how long I can make them last (taping a little cardstock on the ribbon end, if they’re floating too close to the ceiling; cutting off a bit if they’re dragging too close to the floor). When one “dies,” Craig breathes in the helium and talks in a cartoon-like voice–which is fun to listen to, but doesn’t last more than a minute.

Sometimes I talk to my balloons. (“What are you doing here?”  “Oh, you startled me!” “Don’t bother me now–you’re in my way.”  Things like that.) Mostly, though, I just watch them, or fan them, or trim their ribbons. They remind me that:

  • Some things move slowly and quietly but still reach surprising destinations. (The one that was peeking over my shoulder a minute ago has already left the room.)
  • Some things show up unexpectedly and throw you a bit off balance. When they do, it’s best to just laugh and walk around them.
  • Everything runs out of steam eventually (or, in this case, helium), but it’s fun to keep things aloft for as long as you can, while still preserving some quality of joy.
  • Sometimes it is better to play things lightly. (I read once that Toscanini was once conducting rehearsals with his orchestra but couldn’t get them to play with the right softness and delicacy. Finally he stopped everyone and took a silk handkerchief out of his pocket, and then dropped it. As everyone watched it float slowly to the floor, he pointed to the handkerchief and said, “Play it like that.”)

Someday I hope to ride in a hot-air balloon. But for now, I enjoy watching these smaller versions floating around me. They’re magical, they don’t give me any trouble, and they cost nothing to feed. Most importantly, they surprise me by showing up when and where I don’t expect them. And I need surprises once in a while–they help me to pay attention to the present moment.

May you too have a few surprises floating in and out of your home. Watch them as they arrive; bless them as they go; and learn from them when you can.

Happy Easter/Spring/Passover, everyone, with a little…

peace and unrest