Every day on my way to work, I drive through a valley. The asphalt road gives way to chip and seal, and the tires take up a different song. The road curves, sharp, and dips down to a country intersection where another road veers in from a 35-degree angle and only a stop sign and good sense keep vehicles from zipping down into the side of the car. It would give my college roommate, city born and bred, palpitations. She’s probably having them now, reading this. There’s a pond at the bottom, and some farmhouses, along with a few homes dotting the side of the hills as I drive past. The way up and out looks much the same, all the way to the top of the hill where the roadway levels out and the tires settle back to their regular hum.
I like the valley. It’s lovely in all seasons, and the deer that run through the ravine, vaulting fallen trees, almost never try to kill me by jumping delicately right in front of my bumper. Really, it was just that one time.
One morning last week, there was a cloud sitting in the valley as I approached.
Sometimes I remember the exact moment I learned something; the time when my understanding of the world changed in the space between one blink and the next. I remember when I learned the correct pronunciation of “aisle,” and I remember when I learned that fog is a cloud. I was in the backseat of the family sedan, and we were driving toward my hometown, coming around the bend in the road and approaching the tracks that marked the unofficial city limits. It was foggy, my dad was driving too fast for my mother’s peace of mind, and I didn’t like the fog.
Dad let his foot off the gas, and the car slowed a smidge. “Fog is fine,” he said. “It’s just a cloud sitting on the ground.” I demanded clarification, and he stuck to his guns. Fog and a cloud were the same thing. It’s just that when you were in it, it felt damp and made it hard to see, and when you looked at the sky, it looked like a feather bed. I was stunned.
I remembered that lesson as I drove toward the valley, The cloud was pretty from my perspective, settled down between the hills. It was separate from the towering layered clouds overhead, covering the bottom half of a bright blue summer sky. But I wondered. If you lived in the house at the bottom of the valley, what did the sky look like that day? Did it feel like a dank, disappointing morning? And what did it feel like to emerge from the fog, driving slowly and carefully up out of the valley, and catching the brightness of the day? Would you feel lighter as you drove up the hill, tossing a now-extraneous jacket and umbrella into the back seat?
It can be like that, emerging from one of the fogs of life. Coming up the hill slowly, taking some time to realize that the sky above is blue. Taking a little longer yet to trust the light. Letting go, with relief, of the belief that the fog is vast and pervasive, and just the way things are now.
Looking back in the rearview mirror, to see for sure that it is, really, only a cloud.