The Confined Balloon

I’m not sure I’d have such an affinity for helium balloons if I didn’t have a friend (Mike) who has such an affinity for helium balloons himself. I’ve been blessed with four or five within the last three-plus months. My ceiling is about to look like the ceiling in the Dollar Store where “ceiling corrals” or “ceiling fences” are used to moderately contain rogue and roaming balloons. It’s funny to me.

For now, my teary-eyed smiley face helium balloon (tears added by me with magic marker to reflect reality – “sorrowful but always rejoicing”), though it be crumpled (or perhaps crippled?) by the slow loss of helium over time, still floats to the ceiling. In some ways it looks much like how I feel.

There’s something about seeing a helium balloon floating to the ceiling that speaks to me. It floats and it goes high… as high as it can. I’d call that a success. Yet the second thing I immediately notice in my more observant moments is that the balloon’s nature is to take off, and if it were not somehow hindered, it would float high into the atmosphere past the clouds and make its way around the earth. As surely as the sparks fly upwards, upwards flight is also the nature of a helium balloon (especially one with a smiley face).

There is something that just feels unnatural, perhaps artificial, a tad unsettling or anxious, incomplete, when I look at a balloon hindered by the ceiling above it. It dances along the ceiling, moved by the slightest breeze or movement of the air around it. It can’t escape. It is flying, in a sense. It may not be sinking or sagging and it’s not getting underfoot, but it doesn’t seem to be reaching it’s fullest potential as it could in an unconfined environment.

If the balloon were free to fly unrestrained, it would eventually fly so high that the cold temperatures in the upper atmosphere would cause the helium to shrink and the balloon would fall. Its lifespan would be greatly shortened by the elements. And yet it would have flown in glory, seeing the world beneath it in vibrant colors and detail that the confined balloon could only ever imagine and pine to see itself.

If part of a helium balloon’s purpose is also to bring joy to its owner, there are several ways to understand this. The confined balloon is capable of pleasing the eye of its owner for a longer period of time, to serve as a frequent reminder of the symbol or occasion for which it stands. After all, I’ve rarely seen “sad” helium balloons. They are always teddy bears, “happy birthday,” “it’s a boy/girl!,” “I love you,” “Congratulations!” or something of that sort (perhaps the one exception being Halloween balloons, which I think should be banned worldwide, because I tend to be overly-opinionated). Sometimes the captive balloon stays around so long that it gets forgotten as it drags along the textured ceiling, above the owner’s head daily, maybe wondering when its owner might look up again. But every now and then the owner looks up and smiles and thinks a few pleasing thoughts because of the balloon.

The fly-away may produce a sense of awe in onlookers, but it is short-lived. The balloon is gone, never to return, and is soon forgotten. Some owners release a balloon with joyful longing, watching it fly, wishing they could attach themselves to the balloon as it soars. Some owners symbolically attempt to release something they’ve held onto emotionally for a long time and send it up with their balloon in and effort to find closure as they see it fade away into the distance. I have watched people who’ve lost a loved one light an individual candle for each balloon, attaching it with string, then simultaneously letting the balloons up into the sky together as a cloud of color, signifying the flight of their loved one’s soul to heaven, often a significantly emotional and meaningful gesture. Other owners may be sad to have their destined-for-captivity balloon run away free. A few months ago I saw a little girl in a grocery store parking lot begin to whimper and sniffle when her pretty orange balloon took flight. It didn’t serve the purpose for which it was intended by its owner. Yet it did fly high and experience the fulfillment of its own desires for freedom.

There’s just something inherently different about the captive versus the free balloon. A different intended purpose, a different life and longevity, a different measure of success.

I feel like these mental images and thoughts mysteriously capture what I think about my life and life in general, and I’ve been trying to see the parallels. It comes as no surprise that I find myself fitting into the ‘captive balloon’ category. Funny how a balloon can make me think so deeply, isn’t it?! (I need another hobby besides thinking deeply.)

I have considered that my owner is God, and He doesn’t turn away nor get distracted. He might look distracted from my vantage point, with my own “happy-sad face” planted in the ceiling. (Since when does a balloon hang vertically as it tries to escape through the ceiling? They tend to plant their decorated sides into the ceiling if the string doesn’t hold them down sufficiently. At least that’s what happens in my home.) God has a specific purpose for me, and it might just be that He gets more enjoyment from me as a designed-for-captivity balloon rather than a free-soaring one, held closer and more captive to His protective presence than the free-soaring balloons which can so easily become distracted by the scenery beneath them.

I’ve thought about refilling the “happy-sad face” balloon with helium once it sags beyond its current state and begins to dip into my inhabited airspace. Sagging brings my internal ‘balloon’ down a few pegs, closer to God’s level so that I can see Him rather than just seeing the ceiling. My Owner must know just the right amount of helium I need to give Him the most pleasure. The free balloon may not even be aware of its Owner nor of the Owner’s provision of helium (and “HEALium” – sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).

That unsettled and uncomfortable crippling and sagging, felt so acutely and for a seemingly drawn-out period of time in captivity yet only briefly felt by the free balloon, close to the end of its journey, will one day end for both. I may never feel that sense of closure or “success” that the free balloon experiences almost effortlessly in its lifetime until my other purposes have been fulfilled, but I’m still floating, and the ultimate success and closure may be all the sweeter to me because of the current lack of it and longing for it.

Gutsy Girl


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