Tuesday, June 1, 2010

of helium

it was another moment when i wished i was a painter. or a photograph would have done fine, but it's not the sort of moment when you happen to have a camera. and anyhow, you can't take a picture while driving 45 miles per hour. not a good one, anyhow.

i was driving down the four-lane road and came to a place where there was a break in the median for cars entering from the cross street. as i looked to see if there were any cars coming, i saw a balloon. it was bright yellow with some sort of red design, and trailing behind it was a red string. it was the big round kind, delightful.

what was striking about that balloon was that it was rising straight up, from just a few feet off the ground, as if just released. the surprising thing: there was no one there. no car with an open window, no child crossing the street, no parking lot or group of people or store or anything anywhere nearby. that is to say there was nowhere for that balloon to be coming from. but it was rising and continued to rise, straight up. it wasn't floating, like an old balloon long ago released, rising and sinking rising and sinking. it was clearly on its way up, still full of air, as if it had just slipped from a child's hand that very moment.

anyhow, i'd like to have a painting of that. or a photograph, all the cars and trees and median and whatnot in black and white. all shades of gray but for that bright, round balloon.

how many different metaphors are there for a balloon rising? balloons have come to symbolize so many things. they are released in celebration and in mourning, in joy and in desperation. they represent childhood, festivals, birthdays, and graduations. they show up at memorial services and cemeteries. and, if you're a kindergartener learning about the ocean, a balloon released outside represents a threat to ocean life, not to mention birds and other creatures nearer to home.

some people think of balloons floating to heaven, delivering messages to loved ones who have gone before. if you know me, you know i don't tend to think that way. i was tempted to imagine the invisible child who released that balloon, to imagine some ghost (?) of eliza playing. but that sort of thing doesn't resonate with me, either. instead, i'll just file that untaken photograph, that unpainted painting away in my mind somewhere for when i need a bright spot in a gray world, a colorful reminder that there is something rising above the colorlessness that surrounds me.

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