Light and Shadow

Challenges in religious and spiritual life

Loss, Hope, and Beautiful Things: A Message in the Clouds

Can we "wake up" to the beauty that surrounds us, even in times of sadness?

We were driving home from the airport, my husband at the wheel. A few minutes earlier, as he was loading my suitcase into the back of our van, he had broken the news to me: My mom had died a few hours before, while I was on my flight. 

And here we were now, barreling down the freeway.

I was on my cell phone, deeply engaged in an intense conversation about my mom and her last days. I was trying hard to concentrate, and my head was down.

Then, for whatever reason, I looked up.

Reflected in the back window of the SUV ahead of us was an arresting image: dramatic, swirling clouds against a deep blue sky.

As we continued down the freeway, the image remained, though subtly shifting: fluffy clouds drifting slowly, sometimes revealing little peeks of an almost-blinding light—and, once, a pastel splash of rainbow colors.

I hadn’t been looking for anything. I was just trying to focus on my conversation. But this view of the sky was so captivating, like a magnet for my attention: Here was something really worth noticing.

And yes, I did think of my mom. Right away. I remembered her telling me, years before, how she loved to look out the window when she was in a plane--although she didn’t get the opportunity to fly very often. And she especially loved looking at those big, puffy clouds, the ones that looked like whipped cream.

Clouds just like these.

The scene was so striking—and so sustained—that despite trying to focus on my phone conversation, I eventually started digging through my backpack with my one free hand, trying desperately to find my camera.

But I couldn’t find the camera in time. At some point we changed lanes, and the image was gone. I hadn’t been able to capture it.

-------------------

Seeing the clouds at that exact time, in my first hour of grief, was so unexpected and lovely.....a perfect gift in the moment.

But the next day I couldn’t help but wonder: Was there something unique about my view of the sky the day before? Or are these spectacular reflections of sunlight and clouds readily available, but simply passing by unnoticed in my daily life?   

So the next day, on my drive in to work, I was on the lookout. The sun was out again, and the clouds were of the same type as the day before.

I had to work a little to see it. But then, there it was.  

Stopped at a red light on a gritty street, I witnessed the dance of sun and cloud on the windshield of the car behind me, clouds parting to yield a bright disc of light.

The car in front of me, the car behind me--both were bathed in sunbeams and clouds. 

Although a part of me thrilled at the sight, another part felt a little disappointed. The fantastic scene that I had witnessed the prior day was not as as unique as I had wanted it to be.

Once I started looking, I realized that these car-borne reflections of sun and sky were not at all hard to find. There they were again, decorating my own car as it was parked in the driveway.

So it turns out that these beautiful reflections of clouds and light are readily available to me. How had I not noticed them before? And what other glimpses of beauty and joy am I missing as I race through my days, preoccupied with tasks and details and to-do lists? 

I want to live my life more awake.

 

 

Julie Exline, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

more...

Subscribe to Light and Shadow

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?