An aerial wish
In 1921, Woodrow Wilson was our president, the United States was formally ending WWI by declaring peace with Germany, an average car cost $440, and an average annual wage $1,400. It also was when Warren Jackson took his first breaths as a newborn in a farm in Ohio.
Ninety-three years later, as our world continues to swirl in turmoil and technology, Warren had what may have seemed like an outlandish wish came true. Thanks to Brookdale Senior Living, Wish of a Lifetime, and a donation from our company (It's Never 2 Late), it was my honor to float aimlessly over Ohio with Warren and his three kids Cecil, Vinnie and Bonnie in a hot air balloon at 5:49 AM on July 18.
The journey had started several months earlier when Tina Mellieon, an exuberant, phenomenal program coordinator at Brookdale helped Warren navigate a simulated Cessna on Brookdale's iN2L in Touch adaptive computer system. Tina noticed that Warren really latched on to the multimedia experience, veering and turning his plane through clouds, wind and rain with a look of sheer determination on his face. Warren, a WWII Air Force veteran, started reminiscing with Tina about his flying days. As conversations developed along an aviation path, Warren volunteered his interest in seeing his farm from an aerial perspective, a farm that was a part of his life over 50 years.
As they talked about what the experience would look like, the thoughts of helicopters and planes turned to the serenity of a hot air balloon. Tina knew that Brookdale and Wish of A Lifetime were sponsoring some wishes for Brookdale residents, so she whimsically filled out the paperwork for the wish, articulating Warren's desire to float back into his past.
Needless to say, her words struck a chord with Brookdale and Wish of a Lifetime, and the seemingly far-fetched desire of a 93-year-old to hop onto a hot air balloon turned from fantasy to reality.
It's Never 2 Late was thrilled to sponsor a wish for Brookdale, although we had no idea what the wish would be. When I saw a picture of Warren, and heard the story of the wish, I selfishly invited myself along for the ride. I have a passion for flying and for farms, and for meeting WWII veterans, and the trifecta was too strong of a draw for me to resist.
Before the sun rose of the morning of July 18, I was parking my car in the high grass of an empty farm field near Dayton, OH, thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of this experience that I really didn't deserve. His kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and friends all began to trickle in through the mist and fog as well. We all were a part of something magical.
Finally the Brookdale van pulled up, the star of the show was in full regalia, watching the festivities, a smitten half grin on his face, his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap (as old as I was was) nestled on his head. The balloon was unfurled, and tanks of gas were ignited to provide the buoyancy to get the balloon filled with air and ready to go. (While everyone takes pictures and relishes the moment, Tina does a sprint to make sure Warren's helpful oxygen tank is not close to the open flame – she is never off duty for the entire experience!)
Warren, his kids and me all tentatively scramble into the fitting cabin, and we are off. We glide toward the sunset. Occasional blasts of fuel keeping the balloon afloat are the only noise one hears, the balloon is slowly, romantically, delicately floating from the ground up to 1,000 feet in the air. His three kids and Warren point out landmarks from up above, roads and building and houses all fitting into a narrative of their own lives. I feel a little like I'm being allowed to invade someone else's family reunion.
There's a lot to learn from Warren. My 2014 digitally-driven instinct was to start taking pictures, texting friends, coworkers and family all over the country, partially to highlight Warren, partially to highlight how cool I was to be able to do this. But I started watching and taking a cue from Warren, he was not consumed with capturing the moment in a smartphone, he was capturing the moment in his soul. He was inhaling the experience as you would breathe the waft of a fine cabernet… slowly embracing each moment, each memory.
I have heard Bill Thomas, the founder of the Eden Alternative, several times mock our society's inability to “be” in the moment, how we're obsessed with “doing.” Warren was “being,” I was “doing” with my digital ensemble. I took his cue, put the electronics in my pocket, and started breathing the same air that Warren was. It was mystical and magical. All of us just smiled as the cornfields and dogs below looked and barked up at us in wonder.
That lesson Warren taught me that morning carried over. Just one week later, at the wedding of Carla Steele, one of my best friends, my daughter Perrin was singing at the reception. It was an honor for me and Perrin, as anyone who knows me knows how much I brag at Perrin's marvelous voice. My usual MO is to be obsessed in capturing Perrin digitally, and obnoxiously send out YouTube clips of my filming to friends and co-workers whether they want them or not. But this time, in Warren's honor, I just absorbed this magical, gifted 17-year-old. I delighted at her singing, didn't film it or take any pictures. I honestly think I never enjoyed watching her so much. I need no digital reminder of it, it's etched in my soul.
Back in Ohio, our craft settled back into place, marvelously steered to its landing place on an abandoned cul de sac. The world was back into its normal rhythm, and by late morning I was frantically checking emails and worrying about a system not shipping on time. But what really mattered on that day was that a magical wish was fulfilled, a life was honored, and an experience was shared by a beautiful family, a giving community, and a senior living organization that honors the residents it serves.
Thanks to Wish of a Lifetime, Jeremy Bloom for founding the organization and Jillaina Wachendorf for running it. Thanks to Brookdale Senior Living, particularly Tina Mellieon, and Sara Terry, their VP of customer experience, for helping make wishes come to life for hundreds of Brookdale residents. Thanks to Cecil, Vinnie and Bonnie for letting me squeeze into what really was their day, not mine, and, most importantly, thanks to Warren , for living a good life, for being a man of honor, and at 93 years reminding me to inhale the magic of every moment.