The poignant message in the balloon


After the combination of COVID-19 and George Floyd’s death, it felt like time stood still across the Twin Cities.  As a physician, I couldn’t understand how a pandemic response could be partisan.  However, I became even more shocked at the partisan divide when it came time to discuss racism and gender equity.  As a physician, we take an oath to protect life.  We are trained to care for people in an unbiased fashion.  We are supposed to read the data and make decisions free from personal filter to protect the community.

Before COVID, I took many things for granted.  I often was reluctant to go on hikes with my kids. We always had something planned: baseball, gymnastics, piano.  Now every morning, we go on a walk.

We decided to go to Minnehaha Falls.  We noticed new graffiti dedicated to George Floyd.  I realized that in his death, people wanted to give him a sense of permanence.  Everyone wanted to make sure this was another human being, father, friend, that didn’t leave this world without touching other people’s lives.  Everyone struggles to feel a sense of permanence and connectedness.  I work as hard as I do, to bring change to the community, help my patients, because I want to feel like my life mattered.  I want to know that someone, somewhere, is in a better situation because I existed.  To me, it felt like whoever did that, wanted us to understand that he mattered, and that is something I can understand.

We walked along the water, and I saw a balloon in the distance.  My kids have been trained to pick up litter and not leave anything behind that could hurt the environment.  My 7 year old became aware of this floating balloon.  However, the balloon seemed out of reach; we couldn’t get to it, so we had to let it go.  When we got to the end of the stream, there was an area we could wade.  My 5 year old loves water and quickly whipped her shoes off and jumped into the water without hesitation.  My 7 year old cautiously sat at the edge and put his toes in the water.  He was able to grab the balloon as it floated near him.  He noticed there was a message in the balloon, and tried to pop it.  He was able to bring me a small piece of paper with purple writing.  There was another page, or pages, that were washed away, not for us to see.

I took the page from my son. I knew something that was put in a balloon was probably related to heartbreak or loss.  I think anyone who has suffered a heartbreak can relate to wanting to be heard and tell the person how they feel.

I started reading the letter.

I don’t want to hurt her and risk her not being in love (referring to her daughter).  I just want her to love herself … trust herself enough to love … We had our time, I cherish every memory.  I know you are in a better place, and I pray that all of these bad days pays off.  I pray that Black people matters and we no longer suffer from our life long affliction of being treated not as equal because our race, culture, gender.  We all do what we can to live to love and be better people.  I don’t have a gun.  I have very little money and not prepared for emergency so I am asking that you ask God in Jesus’ name to keep Mari and I safe. I love you, Omari …

This letter was addressed to a man that had been killed.  I, of course, ran a search to get more information.  What I could find was a Twitter account that may have belonged to him, last entry 2015.    I looked at the picture and wondered about this man.  Did he like going for walks with his daughter? Did his daughter have someone who would protect her from bad boyfriends?  I realized it didn’t matter how he died because the fact is he died.  I stopped looking for what happened and wanted to talk about what is happening. The woman who wrote the letter is all of us.  We want to matter.

When a woman comes into my OB/GYN clinic, I don’t pretend I am color blind.  We need to understand that the experiences we have had are not the experiences others have had.  However, no matter where we grew up, who we are, what we are doing, we are all human.  We deserve love and to be judged by our own actions and not the actions of others.  Let us take a step back and realize that we are the same.

Kellie Lease Stecher is an obstetrician-gynecologist, M Health Fairview Center for Women, Edina and Eden Prairie, MN. She can be reached on LinkedIn, Facebook, and on Medium @kellie.stecher.

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