The parable of the hot air balloon

Hot air balloons lifting off at the Mesquite (NV) Hot Air Balloon Festival

I never expected attending a Hot Air Balloon Festival would remind me of an important life lesson I’ve been working on ever since I graduated from college.

When the balloon launch was about over and only about two balloons had not lifted off, while walking around we ran on to a balloon pilot and his family who failed to launch because of some kind of malfunction they had experienced. As we walked past, seeing our two young daughters, he asked us if they would like to jump inside the basket. We responded resoundingly in the affirmative, and the girls in the basket with a real hot air balloon pilot in back of them was a fantastic photo opp. After taking the photo, we started asking him some questions and then a crowd gathered and he started into his spiel about what it takes to be a hot air balloon pilot and how he got into hot air ballooning.

What was fascinating to me is the setup of the triangular basket, which included three large propane tanks at each corner, which, of course, ran to the powerful burner up top. He showed us the altimeter, which seemed to be the only piece of equipment in the balloon that shows the pilot and passengers “where” they are. He said that once a balloon is up, it is at the mercy of the elements, especially the wind, as to where it goes and where it ends up.

I had a hard time fathoming that.

“Why would anyone want to do it if there’s really no way to guide the path the balloon takes?” I thought.

Before talking to this pilot, I did notice that some of the trailers and vans that belonged to the pilots identified themselves as a “Hot Air Balloon Retrieval Vehicle.”

Along that vein, he said that even though he and his wife had been married a long time, she was still “chasing” him because she has to go retrieve him and the balloon wherever and whenever he lands.

As I reflected on the drive home and throughout the course of that day, there are many people in this world who are like a hot air balloon, having no real rudder or steering system, per se, but who just go wherever the wind (or their whims) take them.

I felt like I was one of those for a while, especially right after college, when I went from one peon job to another trying to decide what I really wanted to do with my life. My self-esteem at the lowest point it’s ever been, I didn’t know where I was going at that time. It’s when I made a decision to better myself (get a Master’s degree) that things started to get better and my confidence returned.

Whatever it is that motivates us, it’s certainly extremely important to have a guiding light in our lives – a point on the horizon on which to look, whether it is our faith or a goal we want to achieve. When we “stick” to something with our eyes disciplined and firmly focused, the winds of life will not lead us into places we might not want to be. Instead of being in the open air of a large wicker basket, we’ll be in an enclosed cockpit we can steer and lead to our desired destination, regardless of any storms around us.

Now, I’m not casting a negative light on ballooning by any means. It seems like a very fulfilling (and somewhat adventurous) hobby, but probably not one for me, partly because of the expense, but mainly because I’m terrified of heights!

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