I found myself thinking and praying this afternoon for the many participants who are currently working through Stage 2 of The Emerging Journey. And along the way I remembered a story that I shared a few years back in an online meditation for The Joshua Foundation. So here’s the balloon story, a story told for all those walking through the narrative process this fall.
August 1, 2005 — So I was driving the other day and a blue balloon floated at a distance across my line of vision. Some one hundred feet or more above the freeway, the balloon with its string-tail drifted from my right to my left and I said to myself, That balloon has a story. It must. It has come from somewhere. There is a story with that balloon. And I remembered another balloon story.
Two summers ago my dad and I were leaning against a car in the front of my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Broomall, Pennsylvania. It was the afternoon of July 4th and we were a bit tired after having partaken in all the fun and heat and noise and food of the morning’s parade festivities. We were listening to my six-year-old niece, Sarah, chat on about what she enjoyed most from the parade. Details of fire engines and cotton candy and convertibles and parade floats filled her speech. She was interrupted when her four-year-old sister, Bekah, came skipping and whirling around the corner of the house, proudly swinging a red balloon. She stopped in front of us and posed with a big smile. She held onto the string of the balloon floating a few feet above her head.
I think we all had the same thought because my dad asked, “Bekah, that sure is a beautiful balloon. Can I tie it to your wrist so you don’t lose it?”
“Nope.” And off she spun with her smile and her red balloon trailing behind her, returning around the corner of the house, out of our sight.
After which Sarah remarked, “She’s going to lose that balloon.”
We all agreed and even chuckled a bit.
Our conversation returned to the parade and other things, and some talk of Sarah’s high hopes for fireworks later in the evening, and onto our favorite fireworks experiences ever. And somewhere in there, a wretched, piercing scream cut into our conversation. We all immediately looked up. From behind the house, a single red balloon floated up and up and up, beyond the far peaks of the roof and trees, accompanied by the screams and hysteria appropriate to a four-and-half-year-old losing her balloon.
Her father carried her into the front yard. He held her closely, her small body heaving in and out, in and out, with the crying. Our attention alternated back and forth between the balloon and Bekah. The red balloon drifted farther and farther away and gradually Bekah’s crying subsided as the pain of the loss was replaced by the wonder of how far her balloon had traveled and the joy of how she could still see it. Sarah’s “There it is!” and Bekah’s “I still see it!” were repeated for what seems in my memory like the entire afternoon. We all stared up into the sky at the tiny speck of a red balloon until we could no longer see it at all.
There is a story with that balloon.
As I kept driving the other day, my attention swung back and forth between the traffic around me and the blue balloon above me, remembering Bekah’s red balloon story, wondering all sorts of questions of this balloon. Was anyone else staring up at that balloon? Were there still cries and tears for that balloon? Or were they staring in wonder and joy at the flight of this lonely blue balloon? I leaned forward, straining my neck over the steering wheel, closer to the windshield, trying to get every last look at this balloon that I could without crashing into the car in front of me. Soon the traffic demanded all my attention, and the blue balloon drifted up and out of my sight.
For a few moments that balloon had captivated my imagination. There was a story with that balloon.
I drove a bit further and got to thinking and noticing some more about blue balloons and stories, about imagination and people—the people I was driving near, the ones I walked by in the supermarket and then at the car wash earlier that morning, the people I sat near the day before at church, the gentlemen who ordered and then spilled the grande latte last night—these each are like that blue balloon. There is a story with each one of them.
There must be. Each person I bump into and walk by has a world of people and places and events, which constitute much of who they are. How wonderfully overwhelming this is!
I drove on, passing cars and homes and stores and office buildings, all full of people, each person absolutely un-identical from the other, each with a unique story, a full context.
One of the pervasive tendencies in our modern world is to reduce people to something less than they are. We often see each other as things without a story. We see only a role, a type, a number, a function. How easy it is to look through, around, and at persons without any wonder or awe. One of the mindsets of neighborly love we must learn and re-learn in today’s world is that there is always more to the person next to us than we can possibly imagine.
There is never just a blue balloon. There is always a story with it. How odd and inconvenient and even foolish it must have seemed to the disciples when, bumping and swaying back and forth in the crowd of people, Jesus asked, “Who touched my clothes?” But Jesus noticed something everyone else missed, everyone except one. Mark records that the healed woman came out of the crowd with “fear and trembling…and told him the whole truth.” For some reason Jesus wanted her story. And having heard her whole truth, he then blessed her (Mark 5:25-34). The gospels are full of similar encounters in which Jesus notices those around him. He sees the many overlooked people in his world. He loves very particularly and personally.
We live in the wake of Jesus’ neighborly love. So may our imaginations be enlarged to the depth and the richness and the fullness of the people around us…