I lay on the summer grass with a young lady friend of mine. We were holding hands affectionately, talking softly about nature, love, and a future that was fated never to happen. As we talked about nothing of lasting importance, I pointed to a dying cloud. All of the clouds drifting lazily overhead were dying as the day’s heat was dissipating and the air was becoming calm, preparing for evening.
I suspect it’s an infrequent event when someone points out an act of nature that had always been visible, but had never been noticed. Indeed, we watched, not saying a word, as the first of the day’s puffy clouds ceased to exist.
I was pleased with myself; glad that my prediction had been proven true, and pleased with her reaction. In fact, I was so pleased that I still remember that incident, many years later, even though the face of the girl has mercifully faded from my memory.
However, now that I have matured enough to ponder the imponderables of life, I realize there is more to the story. As I replay the event in my mind I realize that the cloud talked back to me.
I know that sounds bizarre, but all I can say is that my memories, perhaps having been repressed due to their strangeness, are finding their way back into my consciousness. Perhaps there’s a reason for their reappearance at this stage in my life.
I am not dying; the cloud closest to me seemed to be saying.
I was at first taken aback. After all, who’s ever heard a cloud speak.
I said I am not dying.
OK, if a cloud is willing to talk to me, I suppose I should respond. That would only be polite.
“Yes you are,” I argued, politely of course. “You’re getting thinner by the minute. In fact, you’re disappearing before my eyes.”
I’m not dying; I’m resting.
I laughed, with Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch in my mind.
“Well, resting or not, you’re quickly disappearing.”
But I’m still here.
“You’ll be long gone, any minute now.”
I am moisture; water vapor. That will still exist. It just won’t be visible to you.
“But your whiteness, your cloud, what you are, will be gone.”
I am not a cloud. I am moisture. A cloud is my physical appearance, but that changes throughout my life. And regardless of how I look, what I am, vapor, still exists.
“Well, you’re looking very anemic now.”
I am not anemic!
Apparently the fading cloud had feelings, and perhaps a little bit of a temper.
“Well, you are at least looking very benign right now.”
Like I said, I am resting. Today my mission is to provide shade. Today is an easy life for me.
“So, does that mean you’ll be reborn tomorrow?”
“And you’ll look different?”
No two clouds are ever alike.
Strangely, I was beginning to understand that cloud, just a little perhaps, through some seemingly impossible way. And then I had an uncharacteristically profound thought, for a young man.
“You say the true you is nothing more than water vapor. Would you call that your soul?”
By now the cloud had completely disappeared, but I could still hear its voice in my head.
It is what I am. It is always there; it does not change. If that is what you call a soul, then so be it.
By now the voice of that thing that used to be a cloud was fading as the invisible vapor moved on.
Needless to say, I did not discuss what I was hearing with my then girlfriend. She moved on to another boy soon enough.
The next day dawned with building cumulus. There was instability in the air, and clouds were pregnant with moisture. Wishing for confirmation of what had happened the day before, I turned my attention to the nearest cloud.
“You look full of life this morning.”
I heard nothing.
I tried again, “You look very full of life this morning.”
You talkin to me boy? The cloud was growing vertically as well as horizontally.
“Well, I was trying to.”
Yes, I thought I heard you thinking I was pregnant.
I sincerely hoped that no one else could hear this … uh… conversation, if you could call it that.
You’re right, though. I’m about to give birth.
“To rain?” I wondered out loud.
Rain? Oh no. That’s the process, but not what is borne.
“I don’t understand”.
I give birth to puddles, ponds, lakes and oceans; any container that my rain falls into.
Tell me little man, do you have a mind?
I laughed. “Last time I checked. What a strange thing for a cloud to ask.”
OK, then where is it?
“In my head of course. In my brain.”
Oh you silly little man.
Your brain is the container. Your mind is shaped by the container, but it is not the container.
It seemed very strange getting a lesson — well, maybe I could charitably call it a philosophy lesson — from a cloud. But then they tell me all knowledge is being stored in clouds. I wonder if this is what they mean.
Pay attention. I’m telling you important stuff here.
“I’m sorry; my mind was wandering.”
Minds do that. They don’t like being kept in containers; it’s too confining.
Do you know your mind survives even when your brain does not? Your mind can leave its container just like my water can leave its containers.
This was beginning to sound suspiciously like the ancient mind-body problem. Is the mind the brain, or vice versa?
Except that could not possibly be. After all, I was talking to a — cloud.
“So if we have a soul, you’re saying our soul retains its mind?”
You like that word, “Soul”. You used it yesterday.
“How do you know that?”
If you can believe it, that cloud chuckled, in a vaporous sort of way… I swear it did.
All information is shared in the clouds. That’s why I’m talking to you.
But to answer your question, yes. Your soul retains its mind. Actually, humans have been taught this for thousands of years. Yet most of them still don’t seem to understand. Which puzzles me — it’s really not that difficult.
“You know, I hate to be skeptical, but you seem way too smart for a cloud.”
Oh come now, do you really think clouds can talk?
For some inexplicable reason I was shocked by that question. Apparently I had already suspended disbelief as this second day’s conversation had become more and more interesting.
Having been forced back to reality, I answered. “Well … no. Not really.”
They’re a parable. It’s Me whose talking to you.
There was no answer. I asked again, “Me who?”
That question has never been answered.