Have you ever mentioned something in passing without even thinking about it? Maybe it was a long time desire to do something new or perhaps you verbalized a “bucket list” entry to someone. That was my case a couple years ago. But I’ll begin with a true confession…
I’m afraid of heights…there, I said it…I own it. I can even admit that I get more than a little panicked on a step stool. I know my family gets quite the enjoyment from this little “quirk” when vacationing. We will arrive at a spectacular panoramic view and the rest of the folks will go running up to the railing, admiring the views and here I am stuck in place. Acrophobia takes over, my legs lock up, and my arms shoot out as I take small, zombie-like steps toward the safety of whatever barrier is between me and the “death drop”. After FINALLY catching up to the rest of the group, I wrap all ten digits in a death grip around the railing and declare, “yep, what a nice view!” before reversing the process and moon walking back to safety.
It is with this memorable backdrop in mind that I present the next precious moment. It is Christmas at our house and like all households, great expectations abound as we carefully unwrapped hidden treasures. It was my turn, so I picked up a package to reveal my surprise. And so it was…a gift certificate for a Hot Air Balloon ride! I remained speechless, unable to respond in part, because I could not breathe. Panic and the possibility of incontinence came in waves as all I could utter was “thanks, honey”…My sweet wife evidently noticed my unsettled response and replied, “well, you have mentioned more than once in the past of how cool it would be to go up in a hot air balloon, of what a sense of freedom that would be. Don’t you remember?” At that moment, I couldn’t really remember who I was, let alone what I mistakenly uttered in my foolish past…
Fast forward ten months. My “free ride to the heavens” was still sitting on my chest of drawers, just as dormant as my desire to schedule the “great adventure”. Driven on by the guilt of not using the gift, the looming expiration date, or perhaps the fact I couldn’t find anyone willing to buy this “once in a lifetime” opportunity, I picked up the phone and made a date with destiny.
The day quickly arrived when it was time to take the plunge (poor wording) and we arrived at the airport a couple of hours before dusk and found the other you’ve-got-to-be-out-of-your-mind adventurers. We were divided into groups and soon were herded toward our “baskets of bliss” where we took part in assembling the basket to the balloon and making other preparations for our departure. I was an obedient soldier; following orders as requested, only as a result of a cerebral mix of pride, stubbornness, fear and a healthy dose of both adrenaline and stupidity. After our ride was flight ready, as luck would have it, the wind started to kick up. Sensing the possibility of being dragged down the air field, the pilot ordered the three saucer-eyed passengers into the basket.
The first two, a husband and wife team, climbed aboard and were immediately tossed toward the propane tanks as the wind caught the balloon and rocked the basket south. Once it was in an upright position again, it was my turn. I placed one foot in the foothold and swung my other leg over the edge of the basket as if mounting a frisky steed. Unfortunately as soon as my body was in the basket, the wind rocked the balloon in the opposite direction and I immediately became intimate with the other three basket cases; strangers no more…
There was no time to think or react as the pilot announced it was now or never and released the tether from the anchor pin. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. We were suddenly free, floating upward as the earth below us fell away. I saw my wife as she was waving to me, smiling broadly and probably thinking of my life insurance policy as she grew smaller and smaller.
I looked out and all around me as my fear vanished, replaced by pure adrenaline and excitement. This was a different world I was in and I loved it! The now gentle autumn breezes carried the balloon over the once familiar landscape as I gained my bearings and began my search for familiar landmarks. Overhead and in the distance were other balloons, launched moments before our own, no longer landlocked humans but instead, novice aeronauts.
As I peered below, I could see treetops retreating behind us, revealing evidence of being embraced by cool October nights; exhibiting their festive fall colors that temporarily distracted the mind from the thoughts of cold winter months to come.
A family was running around in their country farmyard, playing with their five herding dogs while enjoying the last remaining hour of daylight.
All of this overwhelmed the senses and diverted the reality that there were four human beings nestled in a small wicker basket, suspended only by nylon and hot air, and all sharing the same space with three propane tanks—just awesome!! Match anyone? But those facts seemed insignificant in comparison to the opportunity to see the magnificent landscape before us; the bigger picture.
We all, at times, need to be taken away from the ordinary to experience the extraordinary. We are so busy living our mundane lives, so content in leading a “heads down-worker bee” existence that we fail to see the big picture, what God truly has lined up for us, what our mission should be. There are times when we will be asked to step out in faith, into the unfamiliar for the sake of the greater good. How willing are you? What is holding you back from setting yourself (and all of your baggage) aside for the benefit of another? For only God sees the bigger picture; our task is just to trust and obey. Like the pilot of the hot air balloon, God knows what needs to be done, how to navigate a circumstance, and what to steer away from. All you have to do is sit back, listen, and act when called upon to do your part.
When the sun finally started to set, our mission transitioned from being spectators to participants, tasked with looking for high tension cables and possible landing locations, while spitting into the air to calculate wind direction. And even though we descended on to the hard earth of reality, safe and sound, we were still on a collective high, knowing we shared life changing moments that we would never have experienced if we had held back and remained in our sane, safe little world.
Am I still acrophobic?…YES! Would I take part in another hot air balloon excursion some day? In a heartbeat! For I have savored the sweetness of the extraordinary and yearn for another taste.