I do not gaze much at the sky although I do enjoy looking at it whenever my eyes end up there. I remember one happy backyard Fourth of July when a friend’s daughter confidently unlocked the mysteries of the starry night before a group of rapt adults. Her teenage friends — our children — could not be bothered with such punditry on a holiday evening. With zero attention on herself or her snickering, clueless colleagues, she rattled off a long list of Greek gods and goddesses whose exploits are forever chronicled in the heavens. I was so impressed. “Eliza, I would LOVE to forget one smidge of what you have learned about the stars.” She laughed. I laughed. The stars twinkled on and on and on.
Given the fact I have admitted to NO predilection to ponder the sky, it was surprising to me that Saturday I took a bold action in pursuit of a better look at the horizon — I pulled over to take a picture of some clouds.
I was on my way back from the memorial service for Mike Bauer, the beloved brother of two best friends, Nancy and Linda. His service was at a lovely inn in a picturesque Maryland bayside town. For the second time that day, I was traveling the unfamiliar byways of my neighboring state. “How I can know so little about a state that borders my own?” I thought. My mind wandered . . . “Had I become one of those die-hard Virginians who know zilch and care even less about Maryland?” As these thoughts crisscrossed my mind, I awoke from my cruise-control-induced reverie with a jolt. I noticed something in the windswept gray sky blue that took my breath away. What was “it”? I wondered, as a copse of trees and some miscellaneous silos blocked my view. I’ll have to wait for the next bend I thought. As I rounded a broad arch in the highway, the entire expanse of the horizon was before me and I saw “it” again. The “it” I saw was a spectacular cloud that my heart had seen even if my brain was slow to name it.
What caught my eye was a very distinct cirrus cloud that stretched from the lower right side of the horizon to the upper left before it disappeared in a mammoth billowy cloud that was lit by the sun. “Wow,” I mused, “this is really something!” The longer I looked at the cloud the more distinct its features became. In addition to the strong, but wispy sides, there appeared to be lateral struts reaching from one edge to the other. “It’s a ladder!” I exclaimed, catching myself by surprise with my utterance.
Then, I slowly pulled my truck to the side of this unknown Maryland road and I cried.
I cried until I had no more tears to unleash. I cried for my friends’ loss, I cried for Pat who had lost her “younger” man after 45 years of togetherness, I cried for the grandsons Mike would never hold, but mostly I cried for me. I cried because Mike made me a better me. Every time he wrapped me in those mammoth arms of his, I knew I was loved. It was his gift, a gift he never talked about and one he certainly never used to his own advantage. Simply put, it was who he was.
And then the significance of my late-afternoon pitstop became clear. I had stopped to watch Mike make his final journey into heaven. I had watched as he carefully placed one foot and then the other on rung after rung. About halfway up, I swear I saw him turn, half smile, and blow a kiss to his beloved Pat. As he reached the top, the cloud staircase started to melt into the rest of the sunset as Mike pulled the ladder up behind him, not one to leave a required task to someone else, always leaving the room in better shape than when he entered it.
The sky grew dark and I realized I’d been staring at the horizon for a long time. I gradually nudged the suburban back into the steady stream of traffic headed west. One loving mile after another I made my way back to my side of the river . . . just this side of Heaven.