My friend and I were driving from Boston to Connecticut late one afternoon, and the sun was bright in the western sky. It was my car, but he was driving. He usually scorned sunglasses, this friend, but I had an old pair in the glove compartment that I offered him, and, after squinting into the sun for a while, he put them on. They were the kind that somehow make things look brighter and more defined.
As we drove on, the clouds were gathered in one of those spectacular pre-sunset displays, cirrus, stratus, and cumulus layered on top of each other with sunlight streaming through them.
“Those clouds are beautiful,” my friend said, and I agreed.
A few minutes later he said, “Those clouds are really gorgeous! I mean, look at the layers! I’ve never seen clouds like this before!”
“It’s really lovely,” I agreed. And it was. He was excited and happy, and I enjoyed his happiness. He struggles with depression as well as other serious health issues, and it is nice to see a tiny bit of joy break through. And the only thing better than watching the unfolding of a gorgeous sunset is watching it with a friend who is enjoying it as much as you.
I think he had forgotten he had the sunglasses on. I decided not to tell him that the clouds were the regular, everyday miracles, that the sunglasses were just helping him to see them better.
I just finished Madeleine L’Engle’s book The Summer of the Great Grandmother. It was written during the last months of her mother’s life, when she was suffering from what sounds like Altzeimer’s disease. Madeleine describes her teenage thoughts about what heaven must be like. She imagines a planet where the sentient beings do not have eyes, and cannot imagine what vision is, what it would be like to see. Then she imagines that when we die, “we might go to another planet, and there we might have a new sense, one just as important as sight, or even more important, but which we couldn’t conceive of now any more than we could conceive of sight if we didn’t know about it.”
Perhaps that’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Not another planet, maybe, but new eyes to see the one we already have. New eyes, or new hearts, or something we can’t even imagine yet. Maybe whatever it is will help us make sense of all the pain and darkness here on earth, the depression, disease, and death. In the meantime we see glimpses of it in the glory of the clouds at sunset, through our human, fallible eyes, through our contact lenses and glasses and sunglasses.