My list of job skills now has an important new addition: balloon rescue.
The event that confirmed my expertise in this field unfolded quickly and without warning. I was staring out from the bakery counter and noticed a young couple standing a few feet away in the cheese department. A little boy was seated in their shopping cart, and all three were looking upward.
I followed their gaze and saw a small, blue latex object nestled against the ceiling. Then, with perfect timing, we all made eye contact at the same moment. "Can you help us?" the woman asked. "Maybe," I answered, walking out from behind the counter to get a better view of the dilemma.
"Sorry," the man said. "We should've tied it to the cart. It's his birthday balloon. He's one year old today." The little boy looked at me and then back at the ceiling. I think I know what he was feeling. At an early age, I also had a balloon that escaped from my grasp and disappeared into the sky. That incident was a total bummer, and the memory of it has always been pretty vivid. The possibility that I could prevent a similar outcome from happening to someone else gave me a surge of intense motivation.
Another factor that made me optimistic was the long red ribbon attached to the wayward birthday orb. The end of it was dangling at tantalizingly close range above us.
"Do you have a stepladder?" the woman wondered.
"Yes," I said, "wait right here." Fortunately there were no other customers nearby, and that meant I could give full attention to this crucial task for at least three or four minutes. If the ribbon was within reach, that's all the time I'd need.
The stepladder I wanted was in its proper storage spot and I quickly had it unfolded and firmly set in place under the dangling lifeline. Standing on the top step boosted me about four feet off the floor. I reached up with my right arm and stretched as far as the muscle structure would allow, but my hand was still about an inch below the ribbon.
A small amount of added elevation was going to be required. I lowered my arm and took a quick look around. The ladder was positioned beside one of the cheese display tables. If I lost my balance and tumbled, the results would be spectacular, unpleasant and possibly fatal. "Fell Into Cheese -- Died On Impact" is not the headline I want on my obituary.
I forced that phrase out of my mind and replaced it with something more positive -- "Just Do It." Then I reached up again and pushed hard with my feet to achieve a tiny jump. I didn't get "big air" but my fingers grazed the ribbon. I instantly repeated the motion, pushing even harder with my toes, and felt the sweet grip of success.
Within seconds I was back on solid ground, the balloon was firmly secured to the handle of the shopping cart, and the birthday boy looked at me and said, clearly and happily, "Thank you!" He was very well spoken for a one-year-old.
I put the ladder away and then encountered a co-worker from the cheese department who said, "I saw the whole thing. I was going to take a picture for the employee web page but you were too fast!" In all honesty, I'm happy no images were preserved for future examination. The depiction of me stretching upward for the balloon was in no way reminiscent of some inspiring heroic achievement such as Icarus soaring toward the sun. I'm afraid what I truly resembled was an aging jungle primate desperately straining to grasp some low hanging fruit. That is NOT an image that needs to go viral. It could harm the country.
But hey -- I saved a birthday from turning sad, no injuries resulted, and no cheese was damaged or destroyed in the process. Small moments can be infused with huge significance.
I'm glad I was able to step up, literally, and do what had to be done. I enjoy setting a high standard for customer service, and feel confident about reaching that high again if the need arises. In fact, with a little extra time to warm up, I'm sure I could even go an inch or two higher.