When I entered the office last Friday, I knew right away that the central heating system had gotten stuck and wouldn’t shut down. I started opening windows. Outside, a storm had started to move in. Inside, hot air closed in, cooking up a reheated version of yesterday’s news.
Even wall clocks drooped so that an hour on the wall melted into five on the floor. And there, in little chairs outside my office door, four first grade boys sat, sweating, waiting for my judgement- the same four who sat in these four chairs yesterday. I felt nothing close to gratitude as I began counting the minutes. Time: 10:00AM.
Would we make it until 11?
I peeled off my elbow-patched coat, loosened my tie and looked one more time at the clock. 10:04AM. I knew I needed to get up, get out, and and take a walk. As four pairs of first-grade eyes watched, I stepped into the hall and headed for the roof.
My school has three floors, but also an additional bird’s nest of a room on the fourth floor. Climb three flights of stairs, go through the little door marked ‘roof access’, and ascend one more flight. From there, crawl out through a hatch that leads onto tar-and-gravel. On top, everything unfolds – landmarks in the four directions, light from above, and an entire city below.
I stepped out and extended my arms to each side. How divine to take in the cool and the damp. A chill came through my shirt sleeves. Colder than I thought. Above were the clouds, huge, waiting for a silent signal to rumble in. These thunderheads towered hundreds of feet up. I could see a pair of gulls circling among them. I fell into quick reverie – a question I asked as a boy:
What makes clouds fly?
As a boy, I could watch them for hours. They had many powers – could go wherever they want to. No limit to pathways in the wide open sky and nothing there to get in their way. When caught against mountains, they could shape-shift and move on.
I wondered whether clouds could talk. I read records of vanquished cultures- peoples who could speak, one person to another, without making a sound. Records of such exchanges – heart-to-heart and not mouth-to-ear – point to something beyond the spoken word that opened onto bigger and bigger skies. Communication of this kind sidestepped the limits of language. People, if these records are factual, talked to one another just as if they were clouds.
My reverie drifted to Bell Hooks, a thinker and activist, who writes that what we can’t imagine can’t come into being. For me, it was the cloud story again. If I see myself as a two-bit scrunch behind a piled-high desk, breathing yesterday’s re-heated exhales, and fanning a reproving finger at fidgety first grade boys– what kind of sky is that? I stood on the roof and watched for a moment more as silent clouds passed.
Big medicine in clouds assured that even the most doubtful among them never falls. Ten minutes of cloud bonding and the first drops of a downpour brought me back. Just this much was enough to free me from the side effects of stale air. I fixed my tie, and pulled open the hatch and prepared for re-entry. Thank you, thank you, I heard myself whispering thank you.
I stepped in through the hatch to try the day one more time.