Our Balloon Festival – a Bit Different for Me This Year

This weekend was out local hot air balloon festival – a meaningful event for me. It creates a certain identity for our city and raises money for lots of charities important to me. It also carries history – friends began the first one 47 years ago.

This year it was a bit different. I missed some good friends who did not attend. As happens in life, we had different opinions. Many off us had mixed ones, and the result of how we handled them was a mixed bag.

I felt complete freedom to make my own decisions on how I would handle things, though. I learned long ago I am only responsible for my own choices. I can’t wait for people to grant me that freedom. I have to take it. I own it. You own yours, too. So do they.

Did some people disagree with me? Certainly. They get to do that. That shouldn’t impact the friendship.

Oh, idealist I am, I am also a realist. It probably will impact some of my friendships. I can’t waste too much time worrying about that, though.

While I have all kinds of friends, those that matter most are those who are willing to live in a world with multiple points of view. Those that desire to understand those views that aren’t their own. Those who try to be kind regardless.

The different mix of people at the festival did give me the opportunity to spend time with people I haven’t spent much time (or any time) with before. I still had good friends around and got to hang out with them, but adding more to the mix is a good thing.

As an introvert there is always a part of me that dreads this sort of event. I’m not great with small talk and after a certain point I’m not great with crowds of people. I hide a bit. And it all exhausts me, even though I do get breaks in the action.

A couple of my “cosy friends” were missing. Those are the people an introvert can hang around for periods of time and feel no energy pull whatsoever. The rest of the folk may drain you, but your cosy people know you’re not the extrovert most people believe you are and act as your refreshment. It’s not what they do, necessarily, but who they are.

But enough about that philosophical stuff. I was just feeling the need to put down some feelings there. The good thing about a blog is five years later you get to remember what existed in your headspace.

Let me share a few cool things that happened. We came up with an award to honor a beautiful spirit we loss earlier this year. Amanda was a gift to our ballooning community. She was the niece of our friends Nicki and Rob, who also served as her round-the-clock guardians for many years. She loved ballooning events and was always there with a smile (some especially big smiles for her favorites.)

The award was created to honor someone with a similar spirit. Someone who makes people smile. Someone who lifts spirits. Someone who uplifts the ballooning community attending the event.

Oh, the nominations touched my heart. There was the person who notices everyone he comes across of every age and finds a way to make them smile. There was the one who provided help to other balloonists and also made them laugh with his unique word play. There was the long time pilot who brought his longtime companion, now in poor health, to see the balloons fly.

And then there was the guy who won it, our friend Wayne. He is a faithful crew member at this festival, who also runs a fan page for it. He is there to help people however he can. Words like “contagious excitement” were used to describe him.

My friend Dave’s kids, excited at his throw in a ballooning competition

I got to present the award at our awards brunch and he wasn’t there. Someone texted him to get to the tent immediately.

All of a sudden, before I had finished speaking, you could see him running in our direction. He ran down the center aisle to a standing ovation. It was a Rocky moment. We rendered him speechless, but his sweet spirit as he accepted it nailed it for us all. Sometimes you just get it right. We felt a smile inside-out. It was definitely my favorite moment of the festival.

Wayne, who later won the Amanda Rigerson Spirit Award

Other great moments:

* Seeing our friend Don fly all six flights and participate in one balloon glow at the festival. He has flown at every festival and I marvel at him.

* Hearing reports from members of our community when balloons came down in their neighborhoods. Friday night I had been in a class all day and wasn’t going to try to fight crowds at the festival. I went out to get something for dinner and saw a balloon on the horizon. I did an old-fashioned chase (no technology, all eyes) and found a whole neighborhood where a bunch had landed. This was the first year in many I hadn’t registered pilots, so I missed seeing them arrive. I was feeling a bit bummed about that. But I drive around the neighborhood smiling and got out and stole a few hugs from a few friends. I got into fun conversations with people who had never been so close to balloons. It’s one of my favorite things.

* Saturday morning I arrived late (that story I won’t tell) and was feeling disconnected and disappointed in myself. I found my friends Mike and Alice, who invited me to fly with them. It did the trick. Bad feelings float away. It never gets old, and flying at a festival is especially cool. Generous ballooning friends – a great gift. Truly they are awesome friends even without the balloon.

Early morning from the air

* A pilot coming down in a spot that was a bit precious (I’m not being facetious – it was well-cared for and we’d been having a lot of rain so land could easily be damaged.) The guy called me a bit upset, and I told him how the situation could be handled. While on the phone to me he gave me a play-by-play and suddenly his tone changed. He told me what a great job that pilot and his crew did protecting that land. A potential bad situation turning into a good one. I figured out who the pilot was and was so proud of him (but not surprised). This same place had once had a rogue balloon pilot land there early in the morning, damaging a well-cared for field and making their way around a closed gate. They left the damage and never went back to apologize or offer to pay for damages. This is not normal behavior for balloonists so this new situation let them see most pilots handle the property of others with care.

* Our local balloon factory, Firefly, was celebrating their 50th anniversary. Lovely people work there and I enjoyed celebrating with them. I’m proud of them. If you see a triangular balloon basket, it was probably made in Statesville, NC.

* Six balloon launcher times were planned, six flights made. All balloons didn’t fly at all times, since some have different weather requirements and levels of experience. Still, there is not much I enjoy more than flying balloons, glowing balloons, and a bit of competition.

All in all, I’m glad I was a part of it. Life is a bit crazy and unpredictable. You have to roll with it in your own way. And even when it’s not the best of times, you can find the good. There’s so much good. If you’re willing to look for it.

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