Clouds tell us a lot.
This morning as my son and I went out for our morning run, we had just passed a particularly challenging uphill section of our route and as I gasped for breath, I looked up to the sky and notice a nondescript cumulus hovering overhead. It made me think back to how many more times I had done the same, looked heavenward while running. The act of looking skyward in some instances was from a need for silent prayer to get me through the day or at least to the end of the run, but in this case it was simply to enjoy the beautiful day that God had made.
Then the thought came to me, “How many times had I had passed this point of exhaustion in my younger days, only to have no idea that someday I would be performing the same feat, but with a son at my side?”
I listened to our rhythm of footsteps, his matching mine even though his stride could easily be half as great as my own. He now stands six foot tall and his loping pace seems too easy for his slender frame. He barely breathes as I struggle to gasp in anything that would ease my burning lungs. Yet, as we continue onward, we move as one; father and son under a pale blue sky, the sunrise at our backs. In my earlier days, I would push the pace when running with someone so that we might achieve a greater return from our workout, yet this morning I neither desired to push the pace nor shorten our time together; this was more than just exercise.
As we trotted along, we talked of many things. My mind ran parallel, looking down at the two images flowing along the green backdrop of countryside. My own father never dreamed of running with me, or at least if he had, he never said so. One summer when I was in high school I began increasing my long runs. On one of the first attempts, I asked my dad to check on me while I tried running an 18 miler. He agreed and became my support vehicle of sorts. He would drive by in the old Chevy Suburban while drinking a beer. He even offered me a drink, realizing I was probably in need of fluids, and then he was off, driving away in a cloud of dust down the gravel road as I plodded onward. Those were solitary runs, something I became to understand were part of the territory. Having someone accompany you was a treat, as was today. We had by now turned and were on the return leg of our run with the sunrise now facing us, as ominous clouds blocked its rays; precursor to potential rain I told my son. He nodded; the pace was finally catching up with him.
The last mile of our run is up the hill to our home; one of the most challenging climbs I’ve known in all the years of my running. As we approached it, I kept talking, sharing not realizing the strain the incline was taking upon my body. Not until we nearly reached the summit did I have to stop speaking and search for oxygen to feed my starving limbs. The scene of cross-country runners passing the finish line and bending double to catch their breath came to mind, hands on hips, heaving chests. One young man from Oregon had joined our high school team, a boy who could have doubled for the late Steve Prefontaine. He walked up to me and told me putting my hands on my hips was cheating, that it was making it easier for my body to recover, not allowing my chest cavity to build strength which was part of the training. I dropped my arms at the time, trying to achieve the effort my teammate mentioned. Today, I hugged my hips and sucked in air, thinking of whatever happened to the young man and where he might be today, if alive at all. The greenness of the shade we had reached at the peak of the hill made me think of Oregon and what running in that place might have been like in Pre’s time; magical for sure.
The whinny of Sugar, Mary’s pony broke my dreamlike state as we walked through the front gate and into the inner yard. Sugar stood waiting for her breakfast, which we soon took care of as we walked our cool-down to the barn. Kittens danced and spun in the early morning light; happy to see us approach knowing breakfast was soon to be served for them as well.
Then my son asked, “Dad, did you notice there wasn’t one car?”
I thought and he was right, we hadn’t seen one car on our entire time out.
“No, you’re right,” I said in response.
“Is it always like this in the morning?”
“Well, if you get up early enough on Sunday morning it can be,” I replied, “but if you go far enough, there will eventually be at least a couple cars.”
I would save the stories of countless miles I had once run on the logging roads in the Weyerhaeuser forests of South Carolina and not seen one human during an entire summer.
Today was about us, not about the past.
Later, after our cool-down, I sat on the porch sipping my morning coffee and noticed the sky a perfect blue. All the clouds had vanished and the pasture grasses before me echoed a richness of plush moisture. My son walked up to the porch after having checked the chickens and I noticed he looked as if hadn’t even broken a sweat. I told him to come on up and take off his shoes and socks so his feet could breath. He obliged and we sat side by side, once more sharing and watching the world before us come alive with the days dawning, our bare feet cooling in the breeze.
Off in the distance, clouds began to loom once again as a hummingbird flitted by.
That afternoon on our way home from church, I looked up in the sky and saw a cloud with the perfect face of an angel looking down. The image was so perfect, it looked almost appeared man-made. The angel had wide outstretched wings and seemed to be floating across the sky, a vision of comfort and peace from above. I felt a certain confirmation inside, knowing that we were being watched from above and that somehow, someway, no matter what life had in store, God would see us through; so said the image in the cloud.