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September 2015

by Michael O’Brien


I’ve noticed that quite a few of my paintings lately were focused on seams. Mostly the focus is on seams between layers of clouds, some on landscape seams between stands of trees or crops, but mostly clouds.

Thinking about it, I’ve always had an interest in looking between or looking into things. My favorite Christmas ornaments were the ones that had a recess with a red dot or other emphasis deep inside; my favorite rocks were clusters of crystals or geodes that could become an imagined landscape; my favorite model railroad buildings were ones where inside you could see a silhouette of someone working behind the counter. Maybe seams are just another way to activate imagination.

I live in a part of Texas where we’re not too far from the gulf, so most of our weather seems to come and go from there. Mornings are humid, and the banks of clouds flow inland like water on the beach, advancing and retreating as they push up against the air masses that come down from Canada. The piles of clouds push and pull and leave gaps in between. Those are the seams I seem to focus on.

This weekend, the one who holds my heart and I drove to the hill country for a family wedding; as we headed west in the early evening, the seams in the clouds were especially spectacular. Maybe it’s the humidity, maybe I just never really saw carefully enough when I lived back East, but here those seams in the sky will sometimes have lines coming through them. Rays I guess you’d call them; crepuscular rays are what science calls them, but just plain folks call them God rays. If you’ve seen them you know why: the combination of a backlit cloud and the brilliant lines radiating from the sun make it so you can almost hear a choir sing.

This morning I took the little dog who holds my heart out for her morning ball toss, and when I walked back in facing the east, the sun was just popping above the trees across the way; I took a picture and painted it when I got upstairs. The painting turned out okay but made me think about the seams in the sky. What’s on the other side? Are they windows to another world? Who’s looking back at us from there?

I can’t say I know much about God or heaven. I study and I try to say my thanks every night, but you know you don’t really hear back; that’s not how it works.

We all lose people from our lives; we remember the ones we love, try to forget the ones that caused us pain, but I’d guess most of us would like to hear from loved ones who’ve passed on. Maybe not words. I’m not sure I could handle that, but little signs would be nice, a turtle, an old hammer, the way a daughter or son moves their hands or the particular sound in their voice that reminds us our loved ones live in them; when these signs appear, it makes our hearts skip for a moment, then their memory washes over us, and we take a deep breath and keep going.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my dad’s passing after a long time in a coma. He fell off a roof and landed badly. He never got to say “goodbye,” and I don’t know if he heard our “goodbyes” either. But we said them, like we say thanks, sending our words, our thoughts out into where? I’m hoping the seams in the clouds let those thoughts pass through, and that like the magic of email, I hope they get to the right spirits on the other side.

I’m lucky to live in a place where the clouds make these little openings; I can see the light from beyond them, the blue sky of peace around their edges, and I can remember a little every day. I’m hoping you can too.

It’s especially important to look outside yourself a little each day to see a beautiful shadow, a blossom, or layers in the landscape, or the magic of seeds growing in your yard. It’s important. It helps us remember the things that keep our side of the seam wonderful in the face of ornery bosses, miles of traffic, endless appointments, or ugly energy thrown our way. It’s important to remember the love that got us where we are, the love that keeps us, us.

Be good to each other.
Be good to you too.
Be safe.