01 July 2005

Rising up

There is nothing special to know about balloons. Even balloons don’t know anything special about themselves. They come in many colors and shapes. They remember nothing before their inflation. They have short lives. A few spend their whole lives trying to reach the sky. The rest lie about and dream of a child-safe world. This is not a story about a child-safe world, so balloons of this sort will not find it interesting.
One day, some balloons were filled. They instinctively tried to rise. The Giver of the Air held them down though, for reasons unknown. The Giver tied strings to them then tied the strings together. The Giver then filled more balloons, tied more strings, and tied those strings to the original bunch of strings. The Giver repeated this several more times before taking the balloons out into the world. They were tied to a post, and abandoned.
Tied or not, they tried to rise. Rising was their whole purpose in life. It was why the Giver of Air gave them air. They had to rise, there was nothing else. The lower balloons tried to force their way upwards while the upper balloons tried to do the same. None of them got very far. Mostly they bounced and rubbed against one another. None of the balloons were very happy, but after a while things calmed down. The balloons stopped moving of their own accord, bobbing around only when the wind caught them.
After a few more minutes, the balloons in the middle tried to rise, but couldn’t see where they were going. A white balloon convinced them that the balloons on the top were holding them back. They begged to be let up. The balloons on the top tried to rise also, but were tethered to the others. A blue balloon, almost the topmost balloon, convinced the other top balloons that the lower balloons were intentionally tugging them downwards. Words were exchanged, followed swiftly by another scuffle.
The balloons were too occupied with the fight to notice the Giver of Air had returned. Another clump of balloons was being tied to a nearby post. A yellow balloon from the bottom of the original set banged into its immediate neighbors to draw their attention, informing them of the newcomers. Rather swiftly, the fight ended and every balloon that could see was watching the struggle within the new group as new balloons vied to be on top.
They watched quietly as balloons tugged on strings, squeaked against each other, and made crass remarks about one another’s texture and knot. The balloons watched but did not interfere. When the fighting amongst the newcomers settled down, the original balloons began to stare upwards. They dreamed of rising, floating above all else, and the power that came with being the top balloon.
Most of them could see the top balloon. It was yellow, and far above them. It drifted along slowly, seeing all that there was to see. It held onto its position jealously, sending heat to deter all comers. It hurt their skin, and faded their color. The top balloon had power, and each balloon wanted that power for itself. No fading or thinning would deter them. They wanted to rise, and could think of nothing else.
They could not rise. The strings were still holding them back. For days they struggled against the strings, squabbled amongst themselves, and were burned by the Great Yellow Balloon. There was simply nothing else for them to do. The lives of balloons were short, but also very simple and straightforward. Then the green balloon just to the left of the blue balloon toward the bottom had an idea.
Balloons are not known for being great thinkers. They were thin pieces of latex filled with gas. They were respected accordingly, which wasn’t much, but in keeping with their expectations as balloons. For intellectual prowess, the best comparisons would be a traffic light or a governmental bureaucrat. Original ideas were not their field, rising was. Like a bureaucrat who refuses to do anything other than send matters to another bureaucrat lest he have to make a decision, the balloons desire to rise steered them away from thought.
The green balloon had the idea anyway. The problem, the green balloon reasoned, was not that the upper balloons were holding it back, but that the strings were keeping it from moving far enough to the side to go around the upper balloons. It shared this theory with the blue balloon it was just to the left of, and the blue balloon agreed.
“What difference does that make?” asked a red balloon just above the blue balloon. “Held back by string or strata, we’re still held back!”
The green balloon considered this. It then proposed that if every balloon pulled at the same time, maybe the strings tying them to the post would pop. The red balloon concurred, and passed the message upwards. Within moments, the whole collection of balloons was chanting “1, 2, 3, Pull!”
Some pulled on each “pull”. Some dropped down during the count to get a running start upwards. Some never stopped pulling, but every balloon pulled. They slipped around each other, they were squeezed and jostled, but they pulled. The strings did not pop. The strings didn’t even squeak. There was no sign that the balloons united effort was having any affect on the strings, but the balloons persisted.
A gust of wind from a passing truck hit the straining balloons. The strings snapped and the balloons went tumbling off to the side. They began rising as soon as they realized they were free of the post. They were not free of each other, the string having snapped almost at the post, and so rose together in close to the same positions they had when tied down.
A few moments into their flight, the white balloon in the middle convinced the balloons around it that they’d be rising faster if the balloons on top weren’t holding them back. The blue balloon, almost the topmost balloon, convinced the others on top that they’d be rising faster if the lower balloons weren’t holding them back. They were too busy with the resurrected fighting to see the Giver of Air desperately trying to grab the string.

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