The Best Balloon Story Ever
Balloons are a really cool way to connect with people. That’s one of the big reasons I’ve held on to the hobby for so long. It feels awesome to help a child with wounded pride smile again or cheer up someone’s day with a touch of inflated randomness. When it comes to truly making a difference with balloon sculpting, one story stands out above all my others though, and that story happened on my way back from an international missions camp in Canada (see the Moose blog for more details).
I’d been balloon sculpting all night, I had said my final goodbyes to campers and staff, and now it was time to sit and wait for my flight. While waiting, I had to witness the heart-wrenching process of a mother leaving her young child of about seven with the gate attendants. There was a loud and awkward moment as the boy cried in fear. What terrified the rest of us was boarding the plane and realizing the boy was still wailing. It was a long flight and we would be on the plane with him for hours to come. Anyone got ear plugs?
Serendipitously the flight attendant, who undoubtedly meets thousands of people on a weekly basis, remembered me from the flight to Canada. I had helped her out by swapping seats on my previous flight. After a short and congenial conversation I asked her, “Do you think it would be all right if I make that boy a balloon animal?” With her affirmation, I set to work. Before I approached him, I made a simple balloon dog to help break the ice. I made my way to the front of the plane where there was still much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Cautiously, I eased up to the young boy, held out the puppy, and said, “Would you like a balloon dog?” He tearfully nodded yes, but I could tell we weren’t done yet. I followed up:
Me: “Would you like another balloon animal?”
Him: A sniff and a nod.
Me: “What would you like?”
Him: “Sponge Bob.”
Me Internally: Uh oh, I don’t have 15 minutes and a bunch of yellow balloons to make that happen right.
Me Externally: “Hmm… I’m not sure I can do that one for you right now, is there something else you might like?”
Me, smiling: “That I can make happen.”
By the time I finished a simple balloon “Mario,” the boy stopped crying. He was newly distracted with his balloons and comforted by knowing the frightening strangers on the plane weren’t quite so scary. When I saw the impact that these simple balloons had on the boy, I made my new friend a deal, “I’ll tell you what, if you’ll be really tough and hang in there for this flight, then when we land on the other side I’ll make you another balloon animal. Does that sound good?” Him: “Yes.” Not another tear came from my new little friend. As I turned to walk back to my seat, the entire plane literally burst out in applause! As an added bonus, the flight attended handed me a sheet of paper and said, sit in this seat, I’ll take care of your luggage. In a crowded flight, she’d moved me to an exit row by myself. As far as flying coach goes, I was living the dream.
After we landed, I found my little friend one more time as we exited so I could make him the promised balloon. I don’t know where he is today, but I like to imagine that when he thinks about his first time flying alone he doesn’t think about it as terrifying, but as a fun trip where a nice balloon sculpture made his day.