Last night I attended a hot-air balloon festival with my 10 year old daughter and some friends. It was a beautiful, balmy early-September-in-Indiana evening. You could say it was perfect. We had taken camp chairs and our cameras (my daughter is a buddy photographer, too) and set up a spot near the end of the field so that we could have a view of all the balloons for a single photo frame of that nights main event… the “glow” where they keep the balloons on the ground and use the burners to light them like huge lanterns. While we waited for dusk, we munched on ribbon fries and lemon shake-ups and snapped photos of some lazy children’s balloons (lazy balloons, not lazy children) bouncing in the breeze and a woman who had brought her pet lizard to see the sights. While my daughter and a buddy rolled around in the inflated “hamster balls” and played frisbee in the open spaces, I watched and waited for “those moments” to come. Those moments when something in my life makes sense. Those moments when the current colors and music and, indeed, mania, align with current events to bring perspective.
I knew the night was about things of beauty rising to the occasion. More than occasionally, as a human, I, too often, rise to the bait. Over-inflated egos and heated social media exchanges coupled with repeated weather woes that make me a basket case with worry. Instead of going with the flow I react and retaliate and place a strain on the ties that connect me to others. I witnessed this dynamic as a team filled a balloon with air, filled the basket with people and strained against the very thing they had worked toward –the lift. Strong men used their whole bodies to weight it down while hopeful women looked skyward to wait it out. It was all a paradoxical dance of light and heavy that worked together for that moment where the balloon hovers, reverently, honoring those who had held it before carrying away those whose fire had made it rise.
Ok. I get it. I admit to too many times, when I have risen to the bait. Defensive and demanding… feeling pummeled by the winds that should have been carrying me. I focused, perhaps too much, on the strength of the ropes that had tied me to my life — until I realized that the ropes were tied to me, not the other way around. They were my ropes and they were only held onto by the people around me, who I had chosen for that task. I could not have come this far without my ground crew. Like the balloon teams, the people who held me back were a part of my rising. Maybe they were waiting for me to be steady. Maybe their resistance just made me stronger. Maybe, just maybe, they were hoping to get a lift, too, but there just wasn’t room in my rise for them.
Wow. Talk about a lemon shake-up. That balloon that had just given me an a-ha from on high was now just above me and I was delighted to get shots straight up through the balloon and I noticed that the fires that made it rise were still cycling on and off. I got it, again, that we have to keep our finger on the passion that set us free, Keep feeding the fuel to go higher, now that you’re unbounded.
Setting my sights now on my earthly responsibilities, I found my daughter and friends and we went to walk around to kill a little time before the next event — the “glow”. I was looking forward to this as I thought that the picture opportunities would be spectacular and I had set up our chairs to save “space” for me to get them. And upon returning to this area, the epic battle of occasional bait rose in front of me like a… giant scarecrow balloon… flat on its back. All we could see from our place in the grass was to top of his 30 foot hat, his huge carrot nose and a limp black crow dangling off his shoulder, head down. We could step to the side to glimpse the traditional balloons behind this monster but all we could see from where we sat was him. Another sip of the shake-up… and another aha… I could not see beyond the obstacle to the beauty and grace beyond unless I moved. And then, in a scene that seemed too cinematic to be real, he rose. Lifting his chest as if his head and arms and… crow… were just too heavy, he began to become upright until he was full and light and off the ground. I admit that his fire within looked more like heart burn than a glow but it was amazing to see what was once a huge obstacle now tower over his terrain and all that work and all that waiting and all that dismay over what I may not see was worth it. Right there and then, the scarecrow became full with just enough burn in his heart to courageously stand.
Unlike other balloon events where the balloons are launched into flight, the glow at night requires that they go up and come down in the same place. The scarecrow balloon was the last to go up and the last to come down. After the field was cleared of the other balloons, they laid him out, folded him up and then a crew of at least 20, rolled him into a ball and loaded him in a trailer. What had first been an obstacle became an object to admire and then became cargo to load in a way that could be unloaded, once again. How many times have I done that? How many times did I take my gifts out of storage to give them a moment in the sun before I loaded them back up again. How many? Too many.
Too many times, I have allowed myself to remain tethered. Chosen to remain on the ground. Instead of taking to the winds? How many times did I lay back down and roll myself back into a ball to be shoved in too-small a container to only be taken out to be laid out? I own the fact that these were my choices as an adult but I acknowledge that just as I was conditioned to believe that was my role I may be conditioning my daughter to believe that, as well. That’s a deflating thought. Until I realize that in that realization, I am lighting a fire… in me and in her… that has OUR hand on the fuel. It moves, like her hamster ball moment, based on her movements, her struggles, her joyful, spastic dances. Just like mine did at her age.
This week, I will be moving, finally. After 4 years of packing and storing and sorting and selling and transporting, I will move into my first house that is all mine. The divorce, itself, was only the beginning of a process that has taken years to actually launch myself, untethered, into this life. And this morning, looking at the photos I had taken I realize I cannot contain my joy any longer and allow myself to be packed back into a too-small box for someone else to unfurl. I will control my flight with moments afire and moments adrift so that I can navigate and nurture, at once. There will be flat-on-my-back moments where I will appear to be a roadblock but then in my gawky-awkward way I will rise and not only will you be able to see past me to where I am headed, you may want to give chase and follow.