I wrote this one in college, but I still kinda dig it…
It’s a chilly March afternoon, and the clouds seem to have settled into the piece of sky outside this library window. They do not want to leave. They are weary from travel and deem this a fine spot to rest their airy bones, so they have stopped and now hang in stillness over the city. The wind has made them thin against the sky, carrying away the weaker members and leaving the most defiant ones to nap where they are. The clouds have halted time, forbidding it to march on it its typical, pitiless manner, and this disturbs me. It bothers me because it cannot be true. As much as I long for a pause in the passage of time, a period to inhale and exhale at a casual speed, knowing I will end up right where I left off, i know that it cannot happen. Time never stops, not even for a moment. That is the reality. These clouds are liars.
I much prefer the honest, cumulous clouds–the fat, white billows of precipitation that grow and expand as they move. They carry sunlight on their backs, and their bellies bulge with the possibility of rain. These clouds tell the truth about time. As they travel across the stratosphere, they depict the way life moves, constantly changing, looking lighter one moment and darker the next, depending on the atmospheric pressure and their position in the sky. I respect their honesty. When I was a child, I had a tendency to restrict my imagination to what I perceived to be “real life.” When playing house with my brother, I denied his request to be a magician by trade, as that did not qualify as a real job. And the few times that I convinced him to play Barbies with me, I fumed when he prompted them to do triple flips off my Barbie mansion, because that would not happen in the real world. Perhaps this stole some of the fun of pretending out of my childhood, and from my brother’s as well, but perhaps it also prepared me for growing up and watching clouds, and knowing the difference between those that lie and those that tell the truth.
A friend of mine who studied meteorology in college once educated me about clouds. We lay on the grass near the pond on campus and he explained the different types. I failed to retain the information, save that of the cumulous clouds I admire so much. They are the clouds we watched that day, the ones that traveled over our heads slowly and put us in a nostalgic mood. The end of another academic year approached, and we were relishing an afternoon in the slightly warm sun, avoiding our homework and loving it. The clouds were alive and on the move. They held the promise of the future in their gleaming crowns and the melancholy of another year gone in their dark tummies. We knew time, and life, were passing as we watched the clouds leave.
Today the clouds deceive. They appear to have quit their journey, but in reality they have crept through the sky all along. I took my eyes away for a few minutes, and now a completely different pattern covers the sky. A moment ago there was a gap in the blanket of white to the far right side, but now that gap sits far off to the left, its shape contorted from what it was before. The persistence of the wind has made the clouds look like the thinning, grey hair on an old man’s head. A new portrait has been painted and I missed the process. Time passed, but the clouds pretended it stopped. This is their duplicity.
My problem, then, is not the passage of time itself, but the tricks that time plays on us who live, to make us believe that life is not slipping away. My heart stops when I think of how much older my grandparents seem now than they did five years ago, and how I didn’t notice their decline. I hate that when I was ten I thought twenty would never come, and now I know that forty will come before I know it. I ran through the sprinkler in summer with bare feet while cumulous clouds dotted the sky overhead. I didn’t notice them then. I knew only the cool washing on a hot day, when time was measured by supper and when the pool opened. Now, suddenly, I am twenty-three, about to face “real life” and wondering where the time has gone.
That’s what I despise about time — that it sneaks up on you. Living in a place without seasons would be awful for me. In Kansas you know when spring and fall have arrived, by the look of the trees and the feel of the air. But in a seasonless place, like Honolulu or L.A., the years can slip by without a hint of their travel, and you are fooled into thinking that everything is the same. The lazy clouds outside this library window enjoy their lies. They crawl so slowly that you don’t recognize they’ve moved until the scene has changed.
I have watched clouds from many windows. I remember the sunsets I could see from my dorm room, coloring the clouds with flaming pinks and reds from dust. I have gazed out of car windows at low, brooding clouds just before a storm in the western ends of Kansas. Clouds of all sorts roll over the tops of the trees in my back yard, revealing the weather forecast to me before the rest of the city knows, and surprising me with their mood swings. And now I sit in the library, surveying these flat, deceitful clouds and wishing they would be honest and hurry up.
In two months I will have a college degree. It will feel good to be finished after all the papers, and tests, and the mononucleosis. But it seems that I just moved into my freshman-year dorm room, with the pink walls and the heater that knew no moderation. I was just getting used to the lay of the campus, and mid-afternoon naps, and the blessing of late-night pizza delivery. The college experience was mine, and it seemed timeless, wrapped in a protective saran from reality. But now I am sitting before a wide-open range of possibilities, none of which include naps, and I am bewildered that five years have passed and I didn’t think to prepare myself for what comes next.
I blame time with its quiet speed. It blindsided me. I should have learned from the clouds I saw that day with my friend. They warned us. But time’s deceit made me a fool. I suppose all we can hope for in the passage of time is to find some sort of comfort in the steady hands of reality. And when we look at clouds such as the liars in the sky today, we can call their bluff and anticipate that life will move and change, like fat, bright cumulous clouds that tell it like it is.