On my way back from a run today, I see four kids of various ages standing on the lawn of one of the neighborhood houses and looking up at the sky. Naturally, I have the instinct to look up as well, but I pause for a moment to prepare myself. In any given film, a shot of children looking up at the sky (the smallest one pointing at something no less) is either a sign that something really really great, or really really bad, is about to happen. There is no middle ground.
As I often compare real life events to something that could possibly happen in a movie, however unhealthy that may be, my first instinct is that I'm either walking into a alien encounter movie (please let it be ET and not a Dalek), or a superhero movie (please let it be Thor with his Mighty Hammer come to save the day and also to make out with me.)
I can't tell by the children's faces if they are stuck with horror or amazement. Worthless. I know that I'll have to steel my courage and look up myself. Just before I fell upon this scene, I had gotten peed on by some unknown animal in a tree and then accidentally kicked my own ankle, causing it to bleed. I am weary of any other misfortunes. So, I carefully walk onto a place in the sidewalk that is not covered by a tree, plant my feet firmly on the ground, and look up.
Four yellow balloons are floating unwillingly into the air. They are in perfect unison, exactly apart from each other, and floating at the same height. They rise up like a tribute to some unknown thing, unafraid, but clearly longing to still be attached to the child who had released them below. For what is a balloon without someone to hold it?
I look back down at the children standing on the lawn, who are still looking solemnly up. The smallest continues to point his hand in the air as if he refuses to release his arm and let the balloon fly away forever.
But there is no turning back. Those balloons are going nowhere but up. I now understand that this was no accident, the children had let the balloons fly out of their hands, perhaps out of curiosity. But it also seems to me that they had no idea what would happen when they did so. I can see them trying to understand what it means for those balloons to be travelling up and up and up. They are starting to realize that they will never come back.
I wish Thor was in fact here to fly up and grab those balloons and bring them back to the four astonished children I see before me. But he's not.
There's nothing anyone can do but watch. I notice other neighbors start to come out of their houses and porches to look up. And as each person realizes what they are looking at they fall into a solemn salute, gazing up at the balloons as they march off into the sky.
I know what we are all thinking. Or at least what the people who have overactive imaginations like myself are thinking. Our thoughts have placed within those balloons the people, things, and dreams we have all had to let go, knowing they will never come back. Things we couldn't hold onto anymore, try as we might. Things we let go knowing we must. Things we let slip out of our hands without realizing how much we would regret it.
I think immediately of the one balloon that's been slipping out of my fingers for some time now because I have been afraid to face it. I immediately tie an extra knot in the string that is connected to the balloon around my wrist. I sometimes forget it's even there. I won't let that balloon go, even if someone tries to pry it out of my hands.
As the four yellow balloons become mere specks in the sky, and a plane flies over scattering them out of their uniform movement, the smallest of the children lowers his hand and admits defeat. The neighbors start to shake themselves out of their reverie toward the sky and return into their homes.
I now can't see the balloons at all. Who knows what will become of them. Maybe some superhero will find them and take them to their superhero children. Or an alien will find them and laugh at the primitive things humans call amusement and eat them.
I walk home, re-tightening the string around my wrist and looking up hopefully at the balloon that is floating above me, in sight once again.