Red Balloon


When we lived in Hamilton, we went, one Pentecost Sunday to the morning Eucharist at St. Peter's Cathedral. The dean, Keith Lightfoot, gave us all red, helium filled balloons on a piece of string. Catherine, who was about 4 at the time, thought this was about the coolest thing that had happened in church, EVER. At some appropriate point in the service, we all trooped outside, and on schedule all released our balloons, 200 Pentecost prayers for the life of our city, streaming upwards into the sky in a gloriously colourful symbolic statement. Well, let's be accurate here. 199 balloons streamed up into the sky, but one remained firmly clasped in a four year old's unyielding fist. Catherine was adamant. No amount of coaxing could persuade her to relinquish this treasure for such a hare brained reason. So, we drove home with the red balloon gently bobbing against the headlining of the car.

All this was too much for Bridget, who was 10, and already endowed with the passion for justice that would lead her to a career in law. Later, at home, when her inexplicably lax parents weren't looking, she frogmarched Catherine into our back yard, prised open her fingers, and enforced the sacrifice which she herself had already made. She returned the balloon to its intended purpose, and I can still remember Catherine's wail of grief and impotent chagrin.

Catherine was right to grieve of course, at the loss of so great a prize. But Bridget was right too. There are some things which are not meant to be held onto. There are some things which attract and entice and which we would dearly love to hold near us, but our benefit and theirs is best served by relinquishing them. Sometimes my life seems filled with red balloons and what is required of me is so tiny, and yet so all consumingly difficult: to open my hand. To release. To watch as what was once precious drifts skyward and away, to where it can do its real, its intended task: blessing somebody who isn't me.


Elaine Dent said…
Oh my goodness! I have been reading about "letting go" this week as written by Richard Rohr and Anthony de Mello. I have been thinking about how letting go is integral to contemplative breath prayer. And indeed I have been praying about the situations where I need to let go. But your story is a gift---riveting, powerful and piercing---and I will carry its image with me in the weeks and months to come. Thank you for writing about and illustrating this spiritual practice so beautifully.