Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flying Above the Clouds

You know the feeling when you take off in overcast weather? The plane climbs up through the clouds. At first you can see the ground below, then the clouds surround the plane and you are flying blind, in the midst of soft gray, hoping the pilot's instruments are guiding him well. Then comes the wonderful moment when the plane bursts through the clouds into pristine blue sky and blazing sunlight. At that point, you are truly above it all, in a rarefied atmosphere, viewing the stunning cloud carpet from on high.

Rarefied is the operative word here because, in reality, you couldn't survive in this crystal clear environment, where the air is frigid and the oxygen thin. Still, it's a beautiful sight to behold, one I never tire of, and the memory of this experience has come to me at times of crisis, when I'm reminded of what's truly important.

There's nothing like a life-threatening illness to put things into perspective. Little problems fall away and the focus returns to what matters—love of family, of friends, of the wider world. The fog of everyday life clears and its little irritations seem irrelevant. Though born out of a sobering realization of mortality, the clarity that comes with that realization can be bracing and exhilarating.

In the fortunate event that the crisis passes and health is restored, that heightened awareness often lingers for a while, then inevitably slips away, like an airplane descending back into the clouds, coming down to earth. It's hard to hold on to the experience of sun shining down on a glorious blue sky over a white cloud carpet. But when I catch myself sweating the small stuff, I try to put myself there, to remind myself that life is short and I should treasure each moment.

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