I suppose I was in a romantic mood. Less than 24 hours after my husband’s return from seven months at sea, we sat at Le Safari on the Cours Saleya in Nice. We just escaped a downpour of rain that had been building since we left the beach an hour earlier. The fruit and vegetable vendors tore down their stalls as the world-famous marché closed for the day, and street cleaners washed everything down.
I’m not sure exactly when I spotted it, but there among the tourists, locals and Saturday workers was a small blue balloon, caressing the bricks of the sidewalk as it floated along. Being a lover of anthropomorphism, I immediately assigned it feelings and thoughts and even a personality. I watched it follow the wind. I observed its effect on the world around it: the masculine response was to kick it – sometimes gently, sometimes violently – while the children just wanted to play. One moment it was at the far end of the street; the next, carried along by the feet of many strangers, it had returned to my side.
I couldn’t help thinking of the 1956 film by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse called, Le Ballon Rouge. The Red Balloon won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for Best Short Film, and Lamorisse won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his 34-minute film with almost no dialogue. The film told the story of another balloon, born the same year I was, which befriends a young Parisian boy named Pascal, accompanying him around the city, following him home and to school, until a gang of jealous bullies destroys it.
As the street cleaners made their way through the market today, I heard the same dreaded sound Pascal had heard. Above the twitter of tourists, the stir of place settings and the motors of vendor vehicles, the pop of the blue balloon rang out. And then it was gone.
And that made me think of how similar we humans are. On the day my mother died, as her body lay lifeless in her home hospital bed, I felt the same thing. She is not there. The body is worn out, but the life goes on.
Today, sitting joyfully with my husband at the market, I saw once again that life is more than all this stuff. Life is not the blue balloon, but rather the air that fills it. That blue balloon gave a small bit of air the chance to move through and relate to the world. Our bodies do the same for us. As a tiny shred of blue lay motionless on the ground, the air that had filled it simply returned to its source.
Is it not the same for us? Is not our effect on the world made possible by our sense of separation from it? Do we not have a limited-time offer to make our impact? And when we are gone, does that impact not continue in the hearts and minds of those who’ve met us on the street? Each of those encounters is an opportunity to create something! Enjoy the ride!