Balloons — or, the science of letting go.

It feels like there are so many people in this city – flowing out and falling through every turn, alley, street, corner. The city is not just pulsating with energy, sound, and light – but with the millions of heartbeats, of the millions of people: passerby’s and those who call it home. Today I needed the city to be a little empty, today I needed to carry twenty balloons across the city. Helium ones – you know, to make my life harder. And no, this wasn’t for a kid’s birthday or some cutesy proposal at Central Park with a horse carriage and rose petals. This was for me.

Balloons are strange, in a way always associated with celebrations. We fall in love with them as children; reveling in the latex smell and their ability to take our breath away, literally. Every person has some fond childhood memory that contains some version of a “…and then we had a balloon blowing competition on my eighth/ninth/tenth birthday”. As adults, though, balloons can teach us about the harder things in life. Balloons are temporary; we know this when we buy them. They are temporary, yet we take the greatest care to make sure they don’t get hurt or pop. We know they are temporary, and we love them anyway. Balloons by their very virtue, have the potential to float away from us. Just slipping through our fingers as we try to hold on, leaving us to watch them from a distance. We know all this when we  buy them. And we buy them anyway. 

Balloons, I think, teach us the science of letting go.


“I’ll take twenty please”.
“Yes, helium please… okay, I’ll wait half an hour”.
“40 dollars? (!!), here, okay thanks! I’ll be next door”.

At the café, next door, I was thinking about last night, when I’d decided to bring a bunch of helium balloons to release at Bryant Park. I knew if anyone who saw them would think they had escaped some celebrations. Knowing they were released and didn’t escape, made me feel like I was colluding with the Universe on this somehow.

“Whose birthday are you buying them for?”, it was a boy I’d seen at the balloon shop.
“Why do you think it’s for a birthday?” He seemed to linger on this question, I could see he was thinking hard – not able to think of any other instance balloons are required, “well, because balloons make birthdays great!” he concluded.

“I’m actually buying them to release them at the park – no birthday – just me letting them go”, I leaned in towards him as if we were sharing a secret.

“You want to just release them?”, he whispered back, incredulous.When I nodded to agree, he asked, “what if some fly away before you get to the park – you can’t control them sometimes”. Before I could respond he added, “or what if…when you get there, some don’t fly away. They just sink to the ground”, he was clearly enjoying this.

“I guess, what you’re saying is that I can’t really plan this?”, I looked at him in mock surprise. He shuffled his feet and whispered, “you can just be ready for it – whenever it happens. It’s fun watching them float away.”

Where was this kid’s mom, anyway?


I had hoped today, Sunday morning, would’ve had fewer crowds on the street. I looked like a discombobulated mess, fighting the wind, and trying to keep my balloons together, and not run into the many, many, many, humans packed on the sidewalk. You’re probably thinking “why doesn’t this girl just hail a cab – she’s in the city of cabs!”. But I tried – the summer sun heated up the cab’s door frame so much that I lost three balloons as soon as the rubber touched the metal. So, me and my seventeen balloons were walking the crowded streets towards Bryant Park. Some places have significance, not because anything of note happened there; no tremendous moment, yet it stills holds importance. That’s why I chose this park, to release them there. I was a block away when the wind picked up, as though with an agenda to take the balloons from my grip. The ribbon grazed my hand so slightly, and then it was out of my reach — leaving my hand outstretched. I watched the balloons float on, standing out starkly amidst the glass and metal buildings. I heard someone point out the balloons, calling attention to others. For a few moments, people – tourists, locals, policemen – stopped to look at the group of yellow balloons floating against the skyline.

I guess you just have to be ready for it – whenever it happens. And try to have fun watching them float away.

-e.j.

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making eye contact.

 

Mornings usually constitute of a commute, somewhere – work or school or something else – and often involves public transit. This means: train delays, over-crowded and cramped spaces with people who have different standards of hygiene than you, dampness or stickiness depending on the weather.   My regular morning commute was no different; rushed, squished, loud, tiring. This morning was more of the same, but I was lucky– I found a seat. I squeezed myself in between a well-dressed woman who was already answering emails on her Blackberry and a very tired student carrying too many textbooks.  Having forty minutes to kill, I thought about whether I should nap or read. Instead, I found myself people-watching, specifically the little girl across from me. She couldn’t sit still for longer than a few moments. Every time the train stopped, she watched the automatic doors as though it was a magic trick. Her eyes were optimistic and inquisitive, interested in every move and sound the train made.  At stop announcements, her head perked up, and when the door chimed shut people turned to look for where the laughter was coming from.  She stood up on her seat, hands pressed against the windows, while her grandfather desperately tried to keep her from falling off. She watched the passing by streets, trees, houses, and skies as the train came above ground and then back into the tunnel. She was completely unaware of the discomfort of the woman sitting next to her. It’s like watching TV, she announced to nobody in particular.

This was her first time experiencing something I, as an adult, did every day – for whom, the magic had faded.  At some point life was a series of firsts, when we approached everything with a sense of new excitement.  Then life changes. We go to school, or maybe we don’t. We get jobs we hate, or maybe ones we love; sometimes we don’t have jobs and we love that and we also hate that. We do things like meeting friends for coffee, or think about a savings account; we talk about travel, and the reasons we don’t travel as much. We find the people we love, sometimes we realize maybe we didn’t really love them, or maybe they never loved us.  And somewhere along the way, that wonder escaped us.

Her grandfather began to gather her things, and zipped up her jacket, found her mittens in the pockets and asked her to put them on. She ran up to the door pushing past the people standing around her, most of whom were familiar with her by now.  Placing herself right in front of the door, she jumped a little as the train pulled into the station. It reminded me of the first time I learnt the feeling of “losing gravity” if you jump when an elevator stops; I was probably her age. As she prepared to literally hop off the train, she turned and our eyes met briefly and she waved goodbye to nobody in particular.

Some people smiled,  some shuffled, and everyone went back to their regular commute.

-e.j.

 

 

an audience to loss.

Even though they were at the hospital, I could see she had taken the time to make sure she wore her bindi today, a deep red against her frail and pale skin.  The dim sunlight coming through the windows caught her slim gold bangles, periodically shining. They sat at the cafeteria table, eating sandwiches and shared a bottle of water. In complete silence, each lost in their own thoughts. He occasionally looked up, to brush off a crumb that had fallen on her shirt, she smiled in acknowledgement – but they didn’t actually say a word to each other. He had finished his food, but waited until she was done to get up and collect their things into a bag. I noticed a slight tremble in her hands as she put the empty sandwich wrapper on the tray, it made her bangles tinkle lightly. He smoothed her hair, and her hospital gown, went around her and started pushing the wheelchair towards the hallway leading to the OR.

I had seen many people come through this hospital, in different states, different relationships, different emotions. There was something about the way in which these two people, a husband and wife, had spent an hour in comfortable silence. Connected, yet silent. There was nothing hurried about them, no rush to fill each moment with words and sounds. Just two people, sitting with each other, letting the world go by.

Many hours later I saw him sitting in the hallway. I could hear the sounds of footsteps echoing away. He sat alone, there were many empty chairs around him.  There was a medical certificate of death on the seat next to him. He was, however, holding a picture of them.

I sat down across from him.

This is what losing a lifetime together looks like.

-e.j.

 

8 weeks.

The night before; it was the weirdest feeling.

She didn’t think there would be a feeling associated with it, naiveté spilling with every tear. Her hand lingered over the lower half of her abdomen, she thought if she touched her skin maybe it would change her mind. “How could there even be a connection”, she had never thought of it this way.

The morning of; a series of mundane morning rituals.

Even when big moments take place in our lives, they are punctuated with ritualistic, mundane, everydayness. She got ready, still making sure she didn’t accidentally graze her lower abdomen, choosing a dress so she didn’t have to button any pants. Her phone flashed, he was waiting downstairs.

It was cold, even for October.  Walking into the nondescript building they were ID-ed and brought into the reception room, which was trying too hard to be cheerful. Women of all ages were sitting, reading magazines and chatting. To her surprise, so many were middle-aged, married women with other children. Soon, they were called into an office, the doctor explaining the procedure, talking about anxiety and counselling, giving them a stern look when talking about contraception.  He held her hand under the table, the whole time.

It was like a relay race; from the doctor’s office, down the hall to change into a gown. “Why don’t these things have a back to them?”, she thought as she put on booties made of hospital-gown-paper. She felt like she was gliding towards the ultrasound room. Ultrasound.  A thing happy, married people did, when they wanted to see their baby. As the nurse powered the monitor and began to rub the cold jelly on, she turned away feeling a strange sadness for losing something that did not exist, that she did not even want.

Finally, at the end of the race, she could sink into the sleepy warmness provided by the narcotics flowing throughout her body. The doctor’s voice was talking about the process, “it feels like a vacuum, you’ll feel some pressure”, with a loud whirring sound acting as a soundtrack to this moment. “Why are the tubes transparent?” she thought, as she watched the clear tube become varying shades of red.

Ten minutes.

In the narcotics haze, she turned to the nurse, “how big was it?” breaking into sobs. The nurse, a warm woman, seemed unfazed by the suddenness of emotion in the room. “It was nothing. 8 weeks is nothing”. She sat a few minutes in another room, eating soda crackers with a can of Canada Dry. He waited in the reception, with a box of chocolates. They left, and he let her cry in silence the ride.

The night of; she let her hand mindlessly wander onto her belly button ring, and fell asleep.

-e.j.

opposing permanence: a narrative of temporary.

one of the most beautiful and tragic things in life is the myth of permanence. we fall in love, thinking that it will be forever. we make friendships for life. we make financial plans based on the idea that there is a more. these plans bring us joy, make us sad, and make us feel that we belong to an ongoing narrative; that there is a beginning, middle, end to our stories.

the opposite of this idea is to be temporary. this is a revolutionary thought. working as a psychotherapist, i often find that people come up against seemingly immovable walls made of the idea of permanence. it becomes an obstacle in their path to recovery. this is because they feel that this is how it will always be. that their sadness will last forever, that the happiness they seek is a permanent ending. a slight shift in thinking, towards the belief in temporary, becomes essential in building hope. once we begin to see that every feeling state that guides our moods and actions is temporary, we are able to see beyond it. it begins to build the foundation for resilience, managing expectations, and sets the stage for change. it also causes the most important shift of mindset, of knowing that you have more control over your situation than you think.

so the reality is, one of the most beautiful and most tragic things in life is the narrative of temporary.

-e.j.

doors and hinges

sometimes things are completely broken.

a door rests on its hinges. but hinges will begin to rust and crumble; the metal will turn into a dust, weightless in air.

no matter how ornate the carvings on the door, how glossy and rich the hues of the paint. no matter how sturdy the Adler wood of the door. As it slips off the hinges, it stops being.

the beauty in all of this is that the door can be put on another hinge. and it will be alright.

ej.

her illusion of intimacy.

she had this way to creating the illusion of intimacy with any of the men she met in her life. watching her from a distance, one would think that she is especially close with the man of the moment.  in my lonely hours, i’ve found myself thinking about why — or, more importantly, how? how could one imitate such a genuine human feeling? i know that was something beyond my capacity. the more i thought about it, the more i realized that it wasn’t about the technique of replicating intimacy but  about her. perhaps this type of intimacy evaded her, through circumstance or luck. maybe she carried a mirror — reflecting her wants onto whomever she could, each night. this is how she could participate in the dance of human desire. she could receive something she wanted for herself. it didn’t matter at that time who stood on the other side of the mirror.

ej.