Waiting for the Light
Waiting for the light to change, I look south, down Second Avenue. This is the same view I marveled at on the evening of September 11, 2001. Back then the sky over lower Manhattan was filled from the horizon up to about 45 degrees with a wall of smoke.
Today though the sky is a bright mid-day blue for most of the view down Second. There is a flow of high clouds coming up from the south. The tops are white, lit by the noontime sun, low in the sky these days. It's one of those rough gatherings of clouds, disordered, the leading edge looking like a piece of torn French bread.
The flow is solid and wide, stretching almost to the horizon, then a break of blue sky, then the leading edge of another disordered flow coming up over the edge of the Earth, God knows how many miles away.
At that particular moment, it's not hard for me to imagine how people long ago began to suspect there was a whole other world up there. Call it "heaven" or what-all, but at a moment like that it does feel possible you are peering across a gulf of time and space into some world that is impossible for you to visit just now. You may get there when you die. You may not. In any case, it seems an attractive place to a guy standing quietly on a street corner, his feet planted on the pavement, waiting for the light to change. It seems so high up and so far away. It must be a wonderful place compared to the sorry world we live in -- friends lost, opportunities wasted, lives dribbled or snatched away.
On occasion, I don't mind imagining a better place somewhere up there above those clouds. And anyway, you can't really help the sensations that come to you. This sensation, undeniable at the time, is that there is a place up there where people go when they die. I recall a famous scene from a famous film (the name of which I cannot now remember) wherein a cheery band of soldiers waves at us from its new place in the sky. I'm obviously not the only one who -- in the presence of such clouds -- has sensed another world up there.
I know it isn't there, of course. People can't live on top of clouds. Anybody who has fallen out of an airplane that's been blown up in mid-air could tell you that. If they could still talk after they hit the ground, I mean.
I suppose it's a sort of natural poetry, the distance between ourselves and the world up there standing in for the distance between ourselves and the dead. A particularly visceral metaphor on an autumnal afternoon, I must say. That distance, that better world up there, feel as real as a magnificently turned phrase.
Dead soldiers in the sky. It beats them not being anywhere at all, I guess.
All that bravery, all that foolishness, all that beauty, all those lifetimes never lived... it's no wonder we can sense that other world up there above the clouds. It's too painful to feel much of anything else, I think, and a flow of high clouds coming up from the south into a bright autumnal sky really is such a magnificent sight. Like all poetry, it's a translation. It makes you believe for a moment you can fly.