As I waited for her mother to load her plastic bags full of groceries into the trunk and passenger seat of the car, which was driven by an older white man, I wondered idly if this was an unmarked taxi service, whether such a thing existed in our town. I felt a little sorry for them, I guess, making bold assumptions about where they lived, about why they didn't have a car to get to the grocery store. I might have wondered whether the little girl was going to get the balloon into the car by herself, why her mother didn't jump to help her.
|By Andrei Niemimäki from Turku, Finland (Balloon)|
via Wikimedia Commons
"Oh," I said in sympathy. I'd seen this before, readied myself to offer some words of comfort, to support the mother as she tried to calm her child. I fully expected the little girl to cry. Or at least to make a startled, unhappy sound, or to frown. But she gazed up at the balloon, now careening dizzily off into the atmosphere, her round face smiling, shining, white teeth showing. She waved to the sky, jumped a little, enough to bounce the skirt, and said, "bye BYE!"
The driver and I must have looked surprised, looking at the balloon, now easily a half mile away, and then back at the girl, because her mother confided, strangely apologetic, "she likes to let them go."
"Well, that's unusual," said the driver, putting the last bag into the passenger seat.
"Wow, look at it go," I said, impressed at the speed of the balloon in the wind.
"Where is it?" asked the mother. I pointed to the yellow speck in the sky. She shook her head, smiling, and closed the door behind her as she ducked into the back seat.
The little girl pressed her face to the car window now, still smiling, as it pulled away.
She likes to let them go, I thought. What a useful thing to learn as a five year old, isn't it? To know how to let go of the beautiful things, the things you love, and let them fly free, wherever the wind will take them. To let go of the difficult things, the things that want to go somewhere else, the things that are really just a burden, or that will tie you down if you have to hold onto them. The things that don't last. The yellow balloons of the world.
My children got balloons at the ice cream parlor tonight. I looped one around my daughter's wrist, advising her to "be careful with it, now, hang on tight." I watched her play with it, wiggling it around with delight -- "look! the balloon is dancing!" she told us -- and knew that I shouldn't have said anything at all. That maybe the balloon would fly away, or pop, and she'd be upset. Maybe more upset because I told her to be careful with it. Environmental and emotional considerations of flown balloons aside, maybe it's not too early to help her learn, too, to let go sometimes, or at least to not fear the letting go, to know that almost everything is ephemeral, except the beautiful things we can't touch anyway. That there are some things we simply can't -- or shouldn't -- hold onto. Maybe we know this as children, and it's only as adults that we begin to fear the separation. Maybe we know too much.
Or maybe we forget.
Do you have a hard time letting go? How tightly do you hold on to your yellow balloon?