I absolutely love the compelling opening to Ian McEwan’s novel Enduring Love.The story begins on a windy spring day in the Chilterns when the calm, organised life of Joe Rose is shattered by a ballooning accident. It is a terrifying and tragic tale of how five strangers come together in a field as they try to hang on to a hot-air balloon that has come lose from its moorings and prevent it from drifting away with a young child in its basket. As the balloon slowly rises on the breeze, one -by one- four of the strangers let go, but the fifth, John Logan, clings on in a vain attempt to weigh down the balloon and rescue the child. The balloon soars higher and higher and McEwan’s closing words of the first chapter describe the inevitable outcome;
” I still thought there was a chance that a freak physical law, a furious thermal, some phenomenon no more astonishing than the one we were witnessing would intervene and bear him up. We watched him drop. You could see the acceleration. No forgiveness, no special dispensation for flesh, or bravery, or kindness. Only ruthless gravity. And from somewhere, perhaps from him, perhaps from some indifferent crow, a thin squawk cut through the stilled air. he fell as he had hung, a stiff little black stick. I’ve never seen such a terrible thing as that falling man.”
The rest of the book goes on to explore how Joe copes with the terrible experiences of that fateful day and the impact of an obsessive interest in him from one of the other would-be rescuers. It’s a story of what happens to those who let go to save themselves and the impact of one man who clung on to help and eventually fell to his death.
How long have you tried to cling on to something that you know is taking you further and further from safety? You are thinking that if you had bailed out earlier then you could have done so without too much damage, but now if you let go the consequences for you would be too great or you may damage others- you are literally in way above your head and theirs- so you cling on. You hope that the balloon will drift somewhere better, somewhere where you can start again, but you are not in control and you don’t know it’s final destination. Letting go seems impossible , so you cling on tighter and you are blown further and further away from where you intended to be.
If this image means anything to you at all- have the courage to let go and know in your heart that Jesus will catch you, and can heal you from the bumps and bruises,loss of face or punctured ego and pride that you’ll sustain. Letting go and experiencing freedom and new life is better than clinging on and feeling out of control buffeted by the wind and external forces you cannot control.