Ever since my son died, I have had a fascination with clouds.
Or perhaps it started, way back when he was still with us, on a beach in Florida.
While visiting the Sunshine State, he and his siblings and I had driven to a state park, paid the rather hefty entrance fee, and set up towels on the beach in anticipation of a banner day.
As these things sometimes go, however, the clouds rolled in and thunder wrecked the sky, until we could no longer deny that a violent storm would soon be upon us. At the last possible minute, we made a run for the van.
All that trip – the first we had taken together after their dad had left – the clouds seemed to loom, trying to tell us whatever clouds know.
Everywhere we went, there they were.
Years later, at my son’s funeral, his brother spoke about the long drive home from that Florida trip: a precious memory of a time he had felt closest to his brother, sharing stories of loves and dreams and naughtiness as the two of them, awake, navigated the rest of us, sleeping in the back of the van, through the dark night.
I ran into my son’s old headmaster the other day, at the Hannaford in Plymouth.
When I asked him how he was doing, he happily announced it was his first day in a while without the crutches he had been using after breaking his leg skiing.
He smiled, then paused.
Breaking his leg was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, he quietly apologized, and I was reminded of why I loved my son’s old school and its kind headmaster so.
With this small gesture of tenderness, he was saying: I remember. I understand what you might be thinking. I miss him, too.
I had, that day I saw him, gone north to climb Mt. Tecumseh.
It was my seventh time atop the 4,000-footer. I am loosely working through “The Grid”: each one of New Hampshire’s 48 special mountains in each calendar month, a task that both overwhelms and thrills. It does, however, give me a reason to get out there, and although it may take decades to finish, it’s a joyful challenge.
There is always certain point on the climb when I look up through the trees and see Tecumseh’s snout, a mile up and away in the distance, and think that I might never make it.
Life seems that way, sometimes: or more accurately, life-after.
There was a song that used to make me cry back in middle school.
Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell speaks of looking back at things-gone-by and seeing them in a more mature, realistic perspective. It’s a haunting, somewhat tragic song, and I thought of it looking at the Tecumseh clouds.
The veil is so thin, there, up high.
In the Book of Revelation, the disciple John has a vision of the sky splitting open and rolling up like a giant scroll.
Behind this, he sees angels, a great white-robed multitude, and even the very throne of the Lamb. (Revelation 6-7)
Had heaven been there all along? Behind the clouds?
Is that where it is, now?
I want to see the other side.
But like looking toward Tecumseh’s faraway snout, like the Grid, like the steady walk of grief or joy, we can only be where we are, here, between what has been called the “already” and “not-yet.”
What amazes me is not that God promises to bring us, his children, there, but instead to bring heaven down, to us: new, vibrant, bright and pure. (Revelation 21)
Hours or decades, not even Jesus knows, only the Father. (Matthew 24)