Remembering a woman who had little but chose clouds to learn about and wonder at

— Photo by Umais Bin Sajjad

“Let’s see some clouds,” said our friend on being introduced to the internet. This sunrise scene gives a shine to an altocumulus stratiformis perlucidus cloud.

We had a dear departed friend — let’s call her Ann — who was very sick for a long time. She had so many issues, she was on every disability and supplemental program they have. She lived in a subsidized apartment in downtown Schenectady, which was a long walk, even to a bus stop.

Despite all that, she was an overall happy person who thoroughly enjoyed life, especially her very few close friends and family.

One time, we had her at our house. I think she had a vague idea of what the internet was, but she'd never “seen” it or had any experience with computers or anything like that.

So I sat her down in front of a computer and told her to think of something, anything, that she’d like to know more about. At first she was confused.

“Anything?” she said, not really believing something like this was possible.

“Sure,” I said. “Just think of anything you’d like to see or hear or learn about and I’ll bring it up for you.”

After a while of looking at her scrunched-up face, she finally got a big smile and said, “Clouds. I love clouds. Let’s see some clouds.”

Then, just like that, she sat there in jaw-dropping amazement as screen after screen of clouds of every type, from ethereal images of wispy clouds on clear, sun-soaked days, to big, heavy, cumulus clouds ready to burst.

As we looked at more and more images, she was overjoyed about how it was possible to, in many ways, just have the world at your fingertips like this. I so enjoyed doing this with her that I’ve never forgotten it. Say what you want about the internet — you know it has plenty of problems — but when it can provide an experience like this it’s at its very best for sure.

As we grind through yet another holiday shopping season, with endless ads, flyers, coupons, and such competing for our attention and our money, I’m still amazed at the choice Ann made that day. Here was a woman not in the best of health, with little in the way of resources, including family and friends.

Yet given the chance to learn about anything — anything at all — she didn’t choose make-money schemes or gambling or “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” Instead, she chose something that any human being from time immemorial could gaze up at in joy and wonder to just enjoy God’s creation.

How simple and beautiful Ann’s choice was and is.

You've probably heard of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” which basically says that, once you’ve got your basic physical needs covered — food, clothing, shelter, safety — you move on to a point where you value things like “esteem” and “self-actualization” more and more.

This makes sense when you think about it. How many houses do you need? You only sleep in one at night. How many cars do you need? You can only drive one at a time and all those extra ones still need insurance and maintenance.

Still you know there are those who gobble up everything like there’s no tomorrow. I guess we all have a different definition of the “basics.”

What I find ironic about Ann was that she barely had her basic needs covered at all. She was totally dependent on the government, friends, and relatives. She spent as much time in hospitals as she did at home.

Yet, despite this, when given the chance, she chose clouds as something to learn more about and wonder at. Good for her. Every time I look at the sky and see another gorgeous cloud, I think of her. Maybe she was wiser than we have a right to give her credit for.

Still, you know how it is around the holidays. My family is no different from anyone else’s.

Come Christmas morning, we like to have the kids each have a lot of boxes to open, just so they feel special. What kid doesn't want some presents from Santa?

But, as I get older, and I hope wiser, more and more I feel like we need less physical and more, I don't know, call it what you want — emotional, spiritual, or to use Maslow’s term, “self actualizing” — things and experiences. Hard to wrap those kinds of things in boxes with fancy paper and pretty bows, though!

I wish all my faithful readers and their families happy, healthy holidays packed with many fun times and all the best that life has to offer, including clouds. Enjoy them as I do (and as Ann did). Peace.