I know you’ve felt this way some days, heck maybe all the time. You go through your day as if you’re in a maze, trying to find the end, never knowing if the next corner will be it or not. Or worse still, a maze full of doors where some don’t open and you have to dig through a ring of keys to find the right one. The ones that do open easily, slam right behind you, and you have to go through some ordeal or put out some fire before you’re allowed to continue to the next door. You can see the sky, so you know there’s an outside, but you’re still confined by the walls of everyday life.
I’ve always been fascinated by hot air balloons, and have gone to many balloon rallies over the years. In fact, I just uploaded a bunch of pictures on my profile page. I’ve been lucky enough to go up a few times now and even work as ground/chase crew. A dream of mine would be to get a pilot’s license and my own craft. Sadly, as I age that may be one dream I have to forfeit. Diabetes is one of the things that can prevent you from getting a pilot’s license. But that’s not what this is about.
My first time up, I don’t mind telling you, I was to say the least “apprehensive”. Even though I’d already seen probably a thousand balloons of all shapes and sizes (some as big as a house or medium sized yacht) take off and land safely, I still couldn’t get over those first time jitters. Think about it. You’re in little more than wicker basket, suspended by a few cables attached to a flimsy nylon bag with no seatbelts or doors. Worse, you’re depending on nothing more than FIRE (and the pilot’s judgment) to keep you in the air! Oh and let’s not forget, YOU CAN’T STEER! Sound like life some days? Well, there’s thousands of “balloons” here on DC too that have gone up and landed safely too!
As you release the tether line that’s holding you to the ground though, your perspective on everything changes. First thing you notice is the silence. There’s no noisy, straining engine giving you clues you’re moving. Then, the lack of terrain catches you – there are no bumps or jars to signal you’re making any progress. Your ascent into the sky is so gradual, there’s no g-force to tell your brain you’re going up, you literally feel like you’re standing still. Finally, there’s no wind – what little breeze there may be, you’re traveling at the same speed of, so the air around you is dead still. The only clues you get are the occasional loud blast of flame from the burner to heat the envelope, and the sensation of heat on the top of your head. You know you should be scared, but the feeling never comes, and you just enjoy your perspective of the world slowly changing as you gain altitude.
From a few hundred feet in the air, in dead silent travel, you get to see things few people will. First thing I noticed was that the sounds of the world on the ground must travel horizontally, because even though I could see cars and trucks below us, I didn’t hear them. It was nice not to have that distraction even though I’ve become accustomed to it. At one point on an early Saturday morning flight (6 a.m.), we came in low and silently crested a stand of trees and surprised a homeowner in her nightgown taking her dog out for his morning ritual in her back yard. The pilot calmly said “good morning” in a normal voice, and she returned the greeting watching us as we quietly passed.
We took a low glide across a local lake, and because we were looking straight down into the water, we were able to see several large schools of fish. Information those early boaters would have liked to know as they were juggling for position at the dock trying to get their fishing boats in. Of course at their angle of view, they’ll never see what we did. In addition, we passed over the northern dock area previously and saw it was just about empty, so if they’d just drive the extra 5 minutes up the road, they’d have no waiting to put their boat in. Sometimes looking down at the big picture, you get to see things that would be helpful to some folks.
We flew high over a major freeway, and could see a car on the side of the road, steaming. Luckily, from our view we could also see the lights of a tow truck coming up about 2 miles down the road. Good. That was being taken care of. Wished we could have let the owner know that, he’d be relieved.
Saw a lot of houses that could use some roof repair too. Who goes up on their roof to look? The owners of the house might like that info to maybe prevent a leak. Heck, my roofer buddy would like to know too where he could make a buck.
During our flight, our chase crew (the guys who’re supposed to pick us up and take us back to the starting point) managed to keep a good eye on us without disturbing our serenity with radio contact. Good thing too because there are no street signs up there. We finally spotted them, and as we searched for a good landing spot in a field where they could pull the truck in and pack things up, we kind of had to visually guide them to where we were headed – continue south on the road they were on until they find the white farmhouse and we’ll try to land in the soy field to the south. They figured they’d have access from a nearby road and turned in, which we quickly told them to back out of (they couldn’t see it was a dead end). We radioed back and told them to continue south to a stand of pines and turn right on the next road. We knew the trees blocked their view of the soy field, but when they turned and cleared them, they could see we were just about to come in so they parked on the side and we floated just above them to land on a grassy spot just across the road. They ran out to hang on to the basket to keep us from “bouncing” or tipping over, and we managed a soft landing with everyone still upright. We’ve tipped over on a previous flight (kind of like a “pig pile” while being dragged along the ground in an Easter basket), so this was a relief.
So if you’ve read this so far (and if you have, thank you), you’re probably sayin’ “what’s any of this got to do with diabetes Nick?”
Well, it dawned on me that some days when I need to get a handle on things, I kind of use the balloon memory to take my mind up above all that I need to “oversee” for that day, and look at things from above. Not necessarily in a full blown hot air balloon, sometime I just tie my mind to a little helium balloon and let it float up. When I look down on my whole day (or week, or month) I can see past all those maze walls and it’s a lot easier for me to get from task to task. Rather than worrying about all I need to get done, and weather the next thing I do is correct, I can look at things and say “well, I need to get here, so I better adjust my altitude to go in that general direction” or “I know I’m going to need help with that, I better give someone good directions so they know what to help me with”.
From my “mental altitude” I can see the days that I’ll have to watch my diet, as well as manage the stresses I see coming up. As I “float” over my week, I can see things that I need to do and when instead of trying to micro-manage each little turn and blind corner. Like knowing what days will be a little tougher so I’ll have to watch the food closer, or prepping for a high stress day which always means higher BG for me. Setting myself above it all for a while, I get the view ahead, can avoid the trees or dangerous power lines, and can plan my actions for a smooth landing. Basically, take control. Now I know there’ll be times when maybe the wind will take me someplace I might not want to go, but I’ll just land and wait until the winds become favorable again.
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