Up, Up, and Away…

Imagine drifting along on a gentle breeze high above the New England countryside, on a crisp fall morning. The frost is heavy – too heavy, really, for this early in October – and the air a bit too cool, but you know the sun will gain strength and the day will be beautiful. You see can that already, here in the gondola of the balloon that follows the ever-changing currents, taking you who-knows-where.

A beautiful view - but not mine, of course

Ah, I sniff a metaphor for the New Crisis. The ever-changing currents of life, which make planning, knowing your final destination, being in control, almost impossible. I didn‘t see the opportunity for meaningful metaphor last October, as that balloon ride unfolded. Now, I see so many…

I wasn’t up in the balloon that day, of course. Not Mr. Anxiety-Prone here. It’s not heights that bother me; I mean, I once sat on the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and dangled my feet over the edge, and I enjoyed a drink at Windows on the World – back in the day… But being up high with nothing underneath me and, worse yet, being carried along by something I can’t influence in any way – not a good fit for me. No, I was more than content to remain on the ground and be part of the tracking team, driving through the back roads of southern Litchfield County while more intrepid souls – including the Fex – rode along upon high.

It was a belated 40th birthday present for her, this balloon ride. The move back to CT and all the logistics and emotional turmoil around it seemed to preclude anything too momentous on the actual date. And looking ahead, I had already come up with an idea for the 41st – a surprise party, to make up for the bash unthrown that year. I mean, wouldn’t that be even more of a surprise, on the 41st? I could get folks to come from all over, and have her best friend help with the chicanery, and I would pull it off, I was sure of it. Only, the party never happened. The announcement of the IMD came first, by about a month, leading to all the emails telling everyone not to come after all.


But all that was in the future on that beautiful chilly-becoming-perfect October morning. All I knew was, the Fex was enjoying a great view, and we trackers were dashing hither and yon, our driver (I can’t remember his name; let’s call him Donny) following the radioed directions from the balloon’s pilot.

More than halfway into the trip, we turned down a road and saw the balloon hovering over a lake. Was it Donny who said something first? Or was it all started by the yahoo outside his house, barely a step above a double-wide, yelling to us as we climbed out of the car? This part of Connecticut has many exquisite, expensive homes, popular with wealthy New Yorkers seeking weekend retreats or retirement tranquility. There are also a number of old-time residents, Yankee rednecks, and it was easy to see which category the yahoo claimed for himself. But as I got out of the car, I wasn’t thinking about his pedigree, or his credibility. I only heard his words.

“They’re going down in that lake,” he said, or something to that effect. “Maybe out of gas. That lake is 40 feet deep. They better get out of there!”

What?  Come on. The pilot must know how much fuel to take, right? He’s a pro. But the balloon was sinking lower and lower, heading for the lake. And the yahoo kept shouting. His tone grew increasingly ominous, and there were no pedigreed New Yorker nearby to counteract his words. Without thinking, I started to run toward the water.

The hiking boots and heavy winter coat, meant to fight off the prematurely cold sunrise, now weighed me down as I rushed toward the lake. Still, I ran faster, leaving the other trackers behind. My chest burned – unlike the Fex, I was not training for distance races. For months, I had not run farther than down to the bus stop at the end of our street. My feet plodded heavily on the dirt road. And all I could think was, “Oh my god, something could happen to her. The balloon could go down, she could be trapped in the gondola. Where is everyone else? Why aren’t they concerned. Oh my god, this could be serious! Awful. I have to do something!”

And even as those adrenalin-fueled fears raced through my head, and my heart thumped harder against my ribs and my legs weakened into rubber, it hit me: “Wait. This is stupid.” Yes, I remembered one fundamental fact that would prevent any heroics that day at the lake, as the gondola fell into the water and submerged my wife with it:

I can’t swim.

I imagined myself plunging in anyway. But think – didn’t the yahoo say 40 feet deep? And that balloon was drifting, drifting still towards the center of the lake. I would be reduced to thrashing along by the shore, frantically looking for some log or fibrous vine or something to cast out into the depths, a life line that I could use to pull her safety.

A reflection

As I thought that, nearing the lake, another realization hit me. I could hear voices from the gondola. There were no cries of panic, no concern. Wait a minute…there was no shortage of gas, no danger of catastrophe. In an even, controlled way, the pilot was simply taking them close to the water’s surface. It was a photo op of sorts, I later saw, as the riders photographed their aircraft’s reflection in the lake. A maneuver I’m sure the pilot repeated every time the winds carried him here or to another lake free of possibly entangling power lines or trees. All just part of the adventure. Yippee!

I stopped running. I don’t know if anyone on board had seen my frantic sprint. As the balloon rose again, I made my way back to the tracking car. My fellow trackers said nothing. Either my mad dash had raised no eyebrows, or they thought it had been a playful run to get closer to the descending balloon. Playful indeed.

I dunno, sometimes I just get a little..deflated

I never told anyone my tale of the balloon over the lake. My tale of frenzied overreaction and comical efforts at would-be heroism. Until last week. I told my therapist, and then I felt compelled to tell the wife who left me. A memory of the morning had hit me recently, as I replayed so many moments of the last 10 years of matrimony. The incident seemed relevant to me somehow, amidst the dissolution. It was, on one level, a sign of my reflexive love and concern for the Fex. She was in danger; I had to do something! And on another level, it was a sign of the irrationality of love. I’m running so hard and panicking and imagining the worst, and there’s not a thing I can do when I get there! No matter what emotions I feel or what I do, the reality of life has its own logic. It follows unseen currents, just like the balloon on a beautiful October morning.

Well, at least the balloon story had a happy ending (other than a little embarrassment on my part, but nothing anyone else detected). Other parts of my recent life – not so much. But who knows where this ride will end up, when it’s all said and done. As long as it’s nowhere near a lake, with some yahoo yelling in my ear.


~ by mburgan on September 4, 2010.

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