Meet my frenemies, the clouds
To listen to me reading this blog instead, the My Why podcast episode is available here.
Yes I know, you're probably thinking what a weighty topic to tackle, but I'm jumping right in. After all, it is something that affects most of us. It’s something we encounter daily (especially in England), something that hangs over us all, something that’s always changing, and something that can be, quite frankly, anything from fluffy to threatening. Clouds.
There will no doubt be a variety of reactions to this subject (yes, I’m aware it's one of the most controversial topics in our society today). And your response may well depend on the country you live in. Permit me to make some large, sweeping generalisations about two countries in particular. If you're familiar with Australia your reaction is probably going to be; ‘Aw, gday mate…' (Just kidding!), your response is probably ‘interest’, because I imagine a cloud for you guys is more of a novelty to point out, or a relief from your hot midday sun.
Whereas if you mention clouds to someone familiar with England… they’ll probably slap you in the face! No, in truth, we’re actually far too emotionally repressed to show our feelings this honestly, but tread carefully with the subject, we’re not all big fans of these monochrome overlords.
I moan a lot about clouds. I live in Britain. It’s what we do. They come between us and the warm sun and blue sky, and there comes a point (several times a year) when we just want to sweep them all away with our hand and tell them to sod off. Especially the grey ones.
For those of you that have read/listened to my blogs for a while now, you will know that nature often features. I’m very inspired by it, it turns out, (I didn’t really know that until I started blogging). And I’ve found I can nearly always take something from it to help us all get through grief, loss and the harder times in life, which is, after all, probably why you’re here.
For a whole year I blogged about each month and what that month could teach us in life, in grief, and in loss, and I had a lot of feedback that told me you really enjoyed those and the time to process every month and look at that season and what it might be teaching you (see - Is there hope in every season?). If you haven’t heard of them, head to the blog page and click on the ‘seasons’ tag, or search your podcast player for ‘the season of …’ (insert month name). The fascinating thing about them is that they’re relevant every year, despite the fact that if I did a new one every year I know they would also always be different. That's nature for you! Always there, always changing.
There’s also other nature inspired blogs I’ve done on there, like; The Autumn Fall, my garden ramblings, and one of my favourites ‘Meet my friend, the moon’, which has lead to this blog, ‘Meet my frenemies, the clouds', and has got me thinking about a 'Meet my enemy, the…' [insert evil antagonist here]. I haven’t worked that one out yet.
So how have the clouds become frenemies you might ask? Or if you’re new to the word, ‘what on earth is a frenemy?!’
Well, the definition of the word 'frenemie' is: ‘a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.’
So, as you see, I'll never be outright rude to the clouds, but there is some rivalry going on.
Let me tell you where this rivalry started and why I have a fundamental dislike of clouds…
They don’t make sense. Fluffy, whitish, made of water or ice, weighing on average 400,000kgs (roughly the weight of an Airbus A380), just suspended in the air, moving silently around on the wind above your head. That is weird.
They don’t drip. That makes me very suspicious. Sure they ‘rain’ but they don’t drip! How are they able to hold their water together and why do they choose such suspicious times to let it go?!
They have their own agenda completely, they can make any shapes, be any size, make patterns, change colour, whenever they please. Again, suspicious.
They’re like these sort of dictators, hanging over us, reminding us every now and then that if they want to they can soak us to the bone without any warning. They have all the rain power to ruin a haircut, put out the barbecue, ruin shoes and cancel picnics. And they’re not sorry about it, they just move on afterwards - and they can move up to 100mph. And they have all these fancy names that no one except cloud-geeks can remember - cumulus, circus - whatever it is. At least the word ‘cloud’ comes from the old English word ‘clod’ meaning lump of land or rock - not so fancy now are we, clouds?!
They luuurve to ruin sunsets and sunrises! Ever gone to watch a beautiful sunset only to find after an hour of waiting a big fat cloud appears above the horizon and hides the final magnificent moment. That’s not by accident.
Despite all this strangeness they’ve planted themselves firmly in our language by being associated with finding good in every situation - every cloud has a silver lining. Well, for starters, it doesn’t, but how did they manage that?!
It brings me joy to know that part of what they’re made up of is dandruff! Apparently things in the air help clouds to form like pollen, algae, fur, bacteria and dandruff! Well, there isn’t any of that in this house, I’m not helping more of them to form thank you very much!
They ruin rainbows! Yes yes they might be needed to make rainbows but when the sun shines into my lounge, through a crystal that flings rainbows onto my wall there's only one thing that can stop it…clouds. Or if Chris moves the crystal to somewhere else.
And last, but by no means least - they block out the sun and they cover up the blue sky.
After this extensive list you might be questioning why clouds aren’t my enemy rather than my frenemy? Well, they’re sneaky creatures and over the last year they’ve found a way to squeeze into a special place in my heart - the same bit where I keep my friend the moon.
Almost exactly a year ago I started an Instagram account to get me out of the house and away from the computer at least once a day. I decided to take a photo of the same tree not far from us, every day to watch it change through the seasons. And no, I don’t do it at the same time of day every day, like people ask me, because that, would just be crazy. It’s called @Aviewobserved on Instagram if you want to see it. And over the last 365 photos there’s one thing that I’ve looked forward to seeing the most each day when I arrive to take my photo, and it wasn’t the changes in the tree as I expected, but it was, unbelievably - the clouds.
It struck me fairly early on in my daily photo mission that it was going to be the changes in the sky that I was capturing most. And I had no idea how much clouds were going to feature.
Now, there is a lot of just solid grey cloudy sky in these images, in fact the story I post on the account each day is almost just a grey update. Very grey. Not so grey. Bit of grey. All grey. Greeeey-ate. That sort of thing. But it’s still the clouds that dominate even on those days, choosing the level of grey.
Then when I got to summer and I looked forward to some clear blue photos (not that I got many this year), I realised after a couple of them, that the sky, beautiful as it was, and I do much prefer blue to grey, wasn’t nearly as pretty when there were no clouds floating in the blue. And I realised, to my horror, it was the clouds I loved in my photos. In fact my favourite pictures are all because of the clouds. The most beautiful photo I’ve got so far (aside from the snow ones, which were pretty epic and exciting) was on a day when the cloud formation was so stunning that I had to drop what I was doing at home and run over to my photo spot to capture it:
[Some other examples:
So I’ve had to change how I see things. Now, I’ll still be complaining about them at certain times of year, usually when I’m moaning they’re big, grey and all huddled together, hiding the sun and blue sky from me completely. I imagine they’re all facing the sun with their shades on enjoying the heat (why wouldn’t they), and what we see are just a load of big grey cloud butts all squashed together. But when they separate out, and I can see their edges, not when they’re all joined up and squished together like grey playdough, they really are what makes the blue more beautiful. Maybe there’s something to that silver lining thing after all.
And of course, when it does get hot in this country I’m always very grateful for the short bursts of shade they give me to ease the burning on my fair skin.
And, I have to admit, they are stunning! They can do amazing things that artists can’t even capture. They can change colour, they’re the reason for those amazing rays of sun you see streaking through them sometimes, they reflect colours and shades from the sun that show us how beautiful things are when they work in partnership. They are half of the recipe for making rainbows. They make the moon look super cool when they streak in front of him at night. They’re very fun to fly through and I LOVE being above them in an aeroplane looking down on the squooshy mattress of cotton wool that you just want to get out and bounce on. They produce weird thin soaks-you-through rain, giant rain drops that splash onto the pavement and hail - I mean, what’s that all about?! How do they do that?!
So overall, weighing it up, I’ve decided they’re frenemies.
And I went a bit further with my thinking on this, because a lot of us think we want solid blue skies (unless you live in one of those countries where you do only get blue sky and you’re longing for clouds and rain of course!), yes, above us, but also in life. In life we often want things to be sunny, smooth sailing, no issues, no interruptions, nothing raining on our parade, everyone alive, everyone healthy, everyone happy. But the reality is that this is boring. Anything that stays the same for a long time, gets boring, even if it’s something you love or think you wanted. It’s the grey cloud that makes me appreciate the blue sky and sun, it’s the constant blue sky that makes people appreciate the rain. Experiencing what we think we don’t want is what gives life colour, experience, and variety.
You think you’d like to be able to lie in every day? Gets boring. You think you want to eat pizza every day? Gets boring. You think you want everyone to get along and be happy and all love each other. Hate to tell you this, gets boring. You think you want no one to die, the world gets overpopulated with very old, very creepy-looking people. Not boring, but not desirable either.
As they say in The Good Place on Netflix:
When perfection goes on forever you become this glassy eyed mush person. The Good Place, Netflix
Losing our health can make us appreciate health, losing someone we love can make us appreciate life and those we still have around us, experiencing the bad can make the good even better. So much of the best stuff in life, the best people, the best organisations and charities, the best leadership, comes from stuff we would consider bad - loss, grief, redundancy, divorce, illness, childlessness, bereavement, failing.
And everything comes at a cost. We think we know what we want in life but the reality is very different. You like the idea of lying in every weekend, would you sacrifice having your kids for that? You want to eat pizza or marzipan every day, would you sacrifice your health, or waistline, for that? You want everyone to live to the exact same age and die the same pain-free death, would you want to live a life knowing that was coming?!
Now I’m not making light of the bad bits, I think you know me well enough by now, and have heard enough of our guests to know that we’re well aware the griefy bits of life are awful, traumatic and hard to endure, like Christopher Morley said:
Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water. Christopher Morley
(I assume he means tears.)
(I hope he does!)
And we need those times too, and I’ve done many blogs on facing loss, disappointment with life, how to let go, how to live with grief etc, but I also bang on about the fact there is hope to be found in these situations, but it’s a choice, it’s not easy, it has to be found and there is a time for that, just as there is a time to collapse and grieve, and those stages look very different for each individual, and last for varying amounts of time. However, if you’ve listened to our 101 guests you’ll have heard about the amazing transformation, hope, charities, books, growth and strength that can come through dark, cloudy times, and not necessarily from a life that just has blue sky.
The truth is, we appreciate the clouds more when they are separate or start to part, when we can see the edges and the blue sky beyond, that’s when we get glimpses of sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, sunrays and sundogs (I hadn’t come across them before a friend in Canada showed me photos - they’re amazing!) and it's the same with grief, loss, sadness, frustration, bitterness, etc. When we can see the edge of these things, instead of blue sky we see the possibility for peace again, instead of sunbeams we see joy and laughter, instead of rainbows we glimpse hope. Because when we can see the edge of our pain, the edge of our grief, the edge of our loss, we start to allow ourselves to hope and maybe believe that one day we will be free of the dark threatening sky of clouds, that we will once again see blue skies. The clouds of our pain might never fully leave us, but they will move, morph and change, and just maybe we’ll start to view our sky as all the more beautiful for them.
And ultimately that’s what I hope the podcast does for people. I want it to show you that there is an edge to your loss (or there will be one day), there is an edge to your grief and it is possible for hope to be seen, that grief, like clouds, is constantly changing and one day it will feel and look different to how it is today. And not just because I said so, but because I’m sharing stories of those who have been through it and know it to be a possibility.
I knew early on in the podcast planning that it was no good me making a list of specific losses and talking about them. To help others I needed to showcase stories from people who had been there, and ask them whether they thought it was possible to find hope in such a situation. And as I’ve always said, and I’ll reiterate now, it’s a choice to find hope, it’s a choice to scan your dusty road of loss to look for the diamonds along the way and to then pick them up if you find them.
And this is why it’s also important to be careful with our words with others too. Telling people that their grief is the ‘worst’ or that you ‘can’t imagine it’ or that you ‘don’t know how they’ll ever get over it’, can effectively paint their sky with all the grey, dark, threatening clouds. Or it might push them together, blocking their view of hope, joy and love again. I believe we can move the clouds for others in that way and we need to choose how we speak to people to make sure we help them see the sunbeams and not darken their sky instead. This doesn’t mean just pretending everything’s fine or ‘they’ll get over it’, it means loving them, drawing alongside them, empathising with them, sharing your grief or that of others (at the right times). These types of actions can create holes in their dark sky and show them glimmers of the blue skies beyond, bringing people a bit of hope, and no one ever felt worse about something by finding a bit of hope.
I’ve used this quote before, but it’s worth sharing again:
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. Desmond Tutu
And if you can help someone find even a pinprick of light in a dark sky, well, what better support can you give them?
So whatever situation you’re in right now, especially if your skies are covered in big grey cloud butts that you can’t see past, I want to offer you some glimpses of blue sky, by telling you it’s ok to be overwhelmed by the endless clouds, but you have to cling to the fact that they move, they pass, they change. Nothing in life stays static forever. Sometimes there are seasons of wall-to-wall grey clouds (I know, I live in England), and those seasons can be long, but they’re not forever. As the saying goes, used repeatedly by a friend of mine that I never forgot, ‘This too shall pass’.
Gray skies are just clouds passing over. Duke Ellington
My Grandma was a teacher and she used to write a lot of poems and quotes down that she heard and enjoyed, especially in the front and back of her Bible, and from a young age I learnt a lot of them by heart. There were two lines in particular from one poem that she’d written that really stuck with me ever since. They’re from the last verse from a poem called The Rainy Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (And for people like my husband who like to know what all the words mean up front, this poem uses the work ‘repining’ which is to ‘express discontent or to fret’ (in fact ‘fret’ is a world I can hear her using - ‘don’t fret about it, dear’.).)
Anyway, these are the two lines:
Be still, sad heart! and cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
And I’ve clung to that my whole life, it was a revelation to me at a very young age that just because I can’t see the sun, it doesn’t mean it’s stopped shining or gone away. Blew my mind. I thought the sun came and went, not the clouds. Since then I’ve read the full poem which I think speaks well into the fact that we will all have some dark days in our life, but they won’t ALL be dark days.
The Rainy Day “The day is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary; The vine still clings to the mouldering wall, But at every gust the dead leaves fall, And the day is dark and dreary. My life is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary; My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past, But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast, And the days are dark and dreary. Be still, sad heart! and cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all, Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow