Clouds are not the cheeks of angels you know, they’re only clouds…
I've always loved this poem by Rod McKuen. I can’t even remember when I heard it for the first time or learned it by heart. I appreciate the way this poem can open up a conversation about clouds. And the clouds in Atlanta have been so beautiful this fall.
It seems like more days than not this fall I’ve been stopped by something beautiful going on in the sky. And they’ve been reminding me of Mom. Maybe it's their wispiness or their colors, but they’ve been wonderful. Mom always loved watching the sky. One of her favorite things was to watch storms come in. I have many memories of watching from our front porch. These Atlanta-fall clouds would have given her so many days for her heart to dance. And my heart has been dancing as I’ve been watching them and remembering her. They have inspired me and comforted me.
Coming from corn and bean fields, I grew up with lots of sky. The sunrises and sunsets in the winter were always so incredible. You could see the silhouettes of the trees and all the rest were clouds and color. It was as if God started each day with a new canvas and just painted, swirled and dashed as we all marveled.
The holidays are tender now with Mom and Dad both gone. I miss them ~ talking important things or just about what's going on. I can't remember a time when she told me what to do, but mostly she would hold me close and pat my arm (or was that Granddaddy? All my angels sometimes inter-mingle). She would draw me close and hold my face in both her hands, look me in the eye. When she did that, I knew all the way to my toes how very much she loved me.
Lately I’m thinking Mom’s playing a part in these beautiful clouds. Maybe God’s loaning her a paintbrush and inviting her to take a turn at painting. I see these clouds and give thanks from the bottom of my heart.
These days I would like to have a conversation with Mr. McKuen, I’m thinking clouds are the cheeks of angels, you know?
Being 360 in the world can mean several things. For me, it can mean that I am seeing full-circle. It can mean that at one time I'm aware of things in all directions. And it can mean that my attention for the world goes all round me.
There have been times in my life when I have only looked down at my feet for the next steps. My focus only looking down. And there have been times in my life my focus was on looking back. Almost as though I was trying to live in the past and un-do or re-do something that was gone.
This past week while having lunch with my friend, Barbara this notion of 360° came to life. I was telling her about our trip this past summer to Kenya and about being out on the Masai Mara. On safari as we were driven around we stood up and looked out for hours at a time. Sometimes I was looking for animals, and other times I was lost in the vastness of that space. I hope I long remember what living into 360 felt like. Standing in the rover and looking round and round, as far as my eyes could see. I’m from the Midwest and my best description of the Mara is that long stretch on I-70 that goes from west Kansas into eastern Colorado. Rolling flats with hills out on the far part of what you can see. Those hours on the Masai Mara felt like living in the fullness of time. I felt a freedom I’d never felt before and at the very same time I felt held in time.
When I think about 360 I am also aware of the strength of the circle. Barbara and I talked about how so much of life feels circular. Often the lessons we learn, we are in truth re-learning. Stories come round and sometimes back round again. As I think of life as being circular, I am aware that the life-circle is only get bigger, allowing more and more inside.
And 360 is a good image to hold onto with the coming of the holidays. Now as the boys are growing up, we’ve moved from the time of Santa’s gifts under the tree to the times when the boys are now buying and wrapping presents for family. I remember giving my grandmother Bobbee a hard time for crying during the carols, and now I’m crying before the songs even begin. Circles coming ‘round again.
And as the holidays come round, I miss my parents and family members who are no longer there sitting around the table. I hold on to those holiday memories from years’ past and carry them with me. 360 allows for all of it.
360 invites me to think about this circle of life getting bigger and broader all the time. 360 invites me to see more. T.S. Eliot wrote “in our end is our beginning” and I’m so thankful for that beginning and our beginning again.
When the stars are aligned for me, my Saturday rituals bring me great joy and life. More often than not, the Dads have the boys on Friday nights so Linda and I can sleep-in on Saturday mornings. I like to get up about 7:45, put a White Horse Question on facebook, brush my teeth, make a to-go iced tea and head out the door. Around an hour later I’ve walked to Evans to meet my buddies in Booth 25 for breakfast. For 6 years or so Susie, Kimberly, Ellen, Anita and I have been sharing eggs and sharing life stories. We hold one another’s hearts and dreams ~ tears and laughter. It’s a gift. It’s a moment-in-time one Saturday at a time. And when the plates are cleaned and the coffee is consumed ("One more cup?") and all the stories of the week have been shared with one another, I walk on back home. Along the way I like to call a cousin or two in CA or WA and check in.
And all along the way, I watch the seasons change.
Today near the end (or beginning, I’m never sure) of Clairemont Road there was a ginkgo tree shedding her leaves. I’ve learned that this is a one-day event. Sometimes it’s only a matter of hours. Branch by branch, leaf by leaf there is a shedding, a letting go of this year’s leaves. It’s sad and wonderful. It’s holy to watch. It’s one of those times that if you blink you’ll miss it. And each time I am able to witness it, I’m reminded of how precious it is ~ this life we are living. Cars were driving by, young folks and old folks were walking by sharing conversations ~ everybody was on their way somewhere else. I felt like the tree and I were in another world. Time seemed to stand still standing there beside the tree.
Today I wanted everyone, everything to stop. To watch. To witness this moment. For this tree and her leaves. The ultimate letting go. I wanted everyone to share in this life-change in this change of season that would only happen this one day for this season for the life of this tree.
So I stopped. I watched. I witnessed this shower of yellow leaves gently falling. When the breeze blew it seemed as though 100 leaves were falling at once. Mostly it was a dozen falling at a time. Every now and then a single leaf fell.
Today I give thanks for rituals of life that keep me connected to what is steady and to what is changing and to what makes me so very happy. And today I give thanks that I was able to witness this one moment with this Ginkgo tree. I hope I long remember the grace of all of it.
All Saints is traditionally celebrated on the Sunday following November 1st each year. Different traditions have different practices. For some it is the remembering of saints who have gone before. For some it is remembering loved ones, friends and family members who have died. Each year it is a time to light candles and remember those whom I have loved who have died.
All Saints is a circular holiday for me. It is a both / and. Remembering and being remembered. Both / and.
Today I am remembering who these saints were in my life (although they would be very uncomfortable with that description). Remembering the gifts they brought to my life, the lessons that taught, the imprint they’ve had. This is a day to remember the history that was shared. Holding close the place they held in my life, the space that only they held for me. They weathered storms with me, sticking by and sticking through events that shaped beliefs. They planted seeds that have been harvested after they have gone.
And it is a day that reminds me that they are somehow also remembering me. This is a truth for me that is impossible to logically explain. Maybe it’s a personal belief. Maybe it’s faith. All I know is that there have been times in my life when I know I am being companioned. There have been times when I’ve felt a loving presence holding onto me and in those moments I have a strong memory of a specific person.
I remember Mom when I see the wispy clouds that paint the sky. I feel Dad at the piano when I hear a recording of Errol Garner or George Shearing. I smile at Aunt Sis when I see pencils with words of encouragement stenciled. I feel Roy nodding in agreement when Linda is trying to rig some project. I give thanks for Gerald Mitchell when I hear his voice saying, “You know, Les, you could always pray…” I remember Gay when I watch the legs trickle down on the sides of a fine glass of white wine. I remember Ruth when I see a convertible driving too fast, and Jimmy when I see one driving too slow. My list goes on and on.
So on this All Saints, I invite you to light a candle, too. Take time to give thanks for those who have stood by you and stood strong for you. It’s a bittersweet day, recognizing again their loss and acknowledging with a thankful heart their ongoing presence. May this day hold grace and peace as we remember.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.