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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

From both sides now…

Rows and flows of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air

And feather canyons everywhere - I’ve looked at clouds that way… Joni Mitchell

Often alone as a young girl, when sent on a family errand, I would take the dirt path that cut across a large field of grass, dissecting it into two raggedy triangles. Gusts of wind would create pattens in the grass that kept me spellbound, and I sometimes would wander off the beaten path to lie down in the waves of living grasses.

Hidden from sight, at least in my mind, I would watch clouds push and shove their way into shapes in the inconsistent wind as grasses teased across my vision. Was it an elephant or a dog with a bone? A unicorn or a tower? A crouching tiger or a volcano?

A strange peace always settled over me in those moments.

I was alone and yet not alone.

When the clouds would separate in their race across the sky, sometimes a hole would open up and reveal a brilliant ray of sun which would illuminate the cloud edges. Too young to understand the thought, I knew I was seeing heaven, and I felt God’s presence somehow in the deep recesses of my heart.

Those “cloud illusions” sustained me. Though life produced its more than fair share of tragedy, somehow I never lost the kinship of those clouds nor felt disillusionment in their presence.

So when social media came alive with footage of Joni Mitchell in her recent hauntingly poignant performance of “Both Sides Now,” I reread the lyrics to her song that had so touched me and so many others in our formative years.

Reading them, I was surprised at the depth of the melancholy expressed there in her musing about the illusions of clouds, of love and of life. Even when young, those sentiments did not resonate with me. In my youthful arrogance, I thought I did know much of love and of life, though there was little evidence in my life to prove it.

I learned early that glittery, fairy tale Love, like the wind waves in the grasses, was an illusion. But love, the stuff of hard work, of chiseling raw stone into something solid and good, that was heaven revealed in gilded cloud edges.

That kind of love didn’t pretend or protect. That kind of love was willing to wear its skin on the outside. That kind of love challenged the belief that “if you care, don't let them know. Don't give yourself away.“

Because the truth was, for me, the only way to find love, was to do the opposite:

Give yourself away.

Over and over again.

For all of your life.

In this seventh decade of my own life, now settled into a new Sonoran desert home, the monsoon season is in full swing. The daily appearance of ever shifting clouds as storms gather holds me spellbound with the same anticipation as it did for the young girl in the field of waving grass. I am still looking for the Light to break through the clouds.

Ah, Joni, it is not a cloud illusion at all.

From both sides, lo these many years - from up and down, from win or lose - it is not the illusion of clouds, not the illusion of love and not the illusion of life that propels me forward. It is the reality of light breaking through a shifting pattern of clouds. It is love experienced in feast and in famine. And it is life made richer by saying, “I love you, right out loud,” withholding nothing and giving away everything.

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Aug 16, 2022

I can't tell you how many times I have sung "Both Sides Now". I even taught myself to play the guitar the way she played it. Your meditation strikes home in a profound way. Thank you, Char.

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