I really don’t know clouds at all
Back in 2005, my father passed away. It was a difficult time for me, more complicated so as my father and I had not been that close towards the end. I was living in Manhattan at the time and had to catch a last min flight back to Oklahoma to make arrangements for the funeral other things. Julie and I had tickets only days after to leave from NYC to Bratislava to a friend’s wedding and then to travel a bit across Europe by train. Things were going to be very emotional and very fast paced over the next few days, that was all I knew for sure.
The funeral went well. My sister and I picked songs to play at the service and we all got to say a few things to remember the man. My mother was unusually strong, she practically held my sister and I together emotionally which wasn’t a feeling I was familiar with but it made me see a side of her I missed. I’m grateful for it.
It occurred to me just before the service that my son, who was eight years old at the time, had probably never seen his father cry and I knew I would cry. I wanted to talk to him about it so I explained that if he sees me crying and looking at him, it was because he gives me strength to get through this. During the service, I kept seeing this figure lean forward in my peripheral vision in the front pew of the church. It was Nathan, my eight year old kid of awesomeness, leaning forward so I could see him, because he wanted to give me that strength. He wasn’t thinking about the grandfather he had lost, he was thinking about the dad he had that was hurting by that loss.
Days later, I boarded the flight in Oklahoma City to catch the plane to JFK in New York City where I would meet Julie with only hours to spare before the flight to Milan Italy would take us on our way to somewhere in Europe called Bratislava that I didn’t even know existed months before.
It’s one thing, to have to bear the injustice of being alone and left to your own thoughts for the duration of a plane flight, after going through the loss of a loved one. It’s another when the plane is grounded on the tarmac for 4 hours because of the weather and you’re not even pissed by it, you’re just hollow because you really would rather not be alone in your head like this for so long. Nearing 5 hours in, they finally announce the plane is taking off. I was worried about making my connections to make my flight in New York. I was worried about my sister still in Oklahoma still dealing with all of this. I was a hodgepodge of emotions that I had no idea how to even process. It was everything I could do not to just cry the entire time, alone in my airline seat, looking out the window to the rain that was keeping my plane from taking off.
When we began to finally take off, I grabbed my iPod and hit play. The selected playlist was a collection of music we either played at the funeral or considered playing. I started to search for something loud and not depressing. Because of the weather, the plane didn’t do a normal take off and ascend to the right altitude as planes normally do, it did constant circles to climb to the altitude it needed. As it did this, Joni Mitchel’s “Both Sides now” came on and I let it play. Like out of a movie where everything goes in slow motion, the soundtrack seems perfectly timed for the moment and the situation. It was the fist peaceful moment I had, the first clear thoughts I had during this whole process. I honestly believe I had a moment of seeing my father’s entire life in that brief moment and understanding him much better than I ever had before. I embraced that love for him and was happy for it, not sad. I missed my dad, and that was a sad thing, but it was a beautiful thing.
Recently, I was reading an article about Joni Mitchel and she talked about that song. She said she was inspired to write the lyrics after reading a book in 1969 called “Henderson the Rain King.” A line in the book, about a man flying to Africa in search of something, captured her attention when he says “in an age when people could look up and down at clouds, they shouldn’t be afraid to die.”