Trailing Clouds of Glory

Trailing Clouds of Glory

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

Trailing Clouds of Glory

Death has many secrets, and I know few or none of them. However, I’ve been given a story to tell—a story about a time when that thick veil of mystery tore open just a little bit and then closed up again.

One glimpse that ignited a lifetime of faith.

It happened about a month after my thirtieth birthday. The school year had ended, and I was finishing up final grade reports for my students. The house was a mess, and my suitcase was half-packed. In two days, I would fly to California. My father had been sick for months, and his voice over the phone had been sounding weaker and weaker. Good thing I’d be seeing him soon, wrapping things up. Nice and tidy.

Then that night, some time before dawn, without moving a finger or twitching an eyelid, I suddenly rose up out of a deep sleep, like a boulder floating to the surface of the sea. I didn’t wake up in the usual sense. That is, I was wakeful but not awake. It’s hard to explain. I simply found myself . . . somewhere. Talking with someone. Someone big and wonderful. I didn’t know who, and I didn’t think how. I really didn’t think at all. I just felt warmth and love, and safety and peace. I couldn’t see much, just a shape, a shadowy figure. But I heard a voice, a big voice. Hello, it said, I’ve missed you. I love you.

The encounter lasted several minutes, and the emotions are still vivid to this day. Like a lion cub getting licked with affection, I was floating in bliss.

Then I slipped back into slumber. When I awoke in the morning sunlight, I remembered the pre-dawn visitation clearly. I had overslept. The alarm hadn’t sounded—my electric clock had stopped.

The very moment of mechanical failure was obvious to see: a quarter to three. The hands had locked in their tracks, flung open as though ready for a hug at the nine and the three.

About an hour later, the phone call came. It was my mother. My dad had died early that morning.

The news hit me like an explosion. After the initial shock, I realized what had happened while I slept. I turned to look at the clock again. It had stopped at the exact moment my dad had died.

My father had stopped to visit me on his way out of this dimension.

For the first time in my life, I experienced what the Hawaiians call He ho’ike na ka po—a revelation of the night. They believe that dreams can be a bridge between this world and the next.

In the context of ordinary dreams, I’d always considered the notion to be sentimental and vague.

But what I experienced was no ordinary dream. The meeting was vivid and clear, and my dad’s message was so reassuring that I am moved to share it: I’m happy, he said in a wordless voice. What a relief to be released from that body . . . to range so freely . . . to grow so wide. I can’t say much, there’s only a moment to check in, but—wow. Would you just look at me?

And I couldn’t look at him because my eyes were not capable of zeroing in on the heavenly realms that he now inhabited.

I didn’t worry about my dad after that. I knew he was experiencing something about death, something big. And he’d made a point to stop by and share some of it with me. In fact, for a moment he pulled me along.

As I am writing this, I stop to read again those famous lines from Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality:

Not in entire forgetfulness and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.

When my dad sailed past, I got caught up in the clouds of glory that he was trailing, and I got to peek through that doorway. What I saw and felt is not something that I can articulate. But I began to see that the mysteries of life and death amount to so much more than I had ever imagined.

I kept that little electric clock in my closet. Then, five years later, someone tried to get the clock to work again.

I had hired a housecleaner, and she went at her job with a voracious ambition. She vacuumed the box springs of the bed and sanded the toilet seat so I wouldn’t slip off in the middle of the night. She got into my closet, ironed my socks and re-laced all my shoes. Then she found the clock.

When I got home that night, I saw the ironed socks and the textured toilet seat. Then I saw my father’s parting memento. The cheap little plastic clock was sitting under the bed where she had plugged it in, trying to get it to work. She had tried resetting the clock so it no longer said quarter to three. It no longer said anything meaningful. And it still didn’t work. Now, instead of a sacred relic, the clock was just a piece of junk.

I made a mental note to throw it away, but then I forgot about it.

Three days later, I remembered and looked under the bed again.

There was the clock. Somehow, it had re-set itself to the time it wanted to proclaim: a quarter to three.

My eyebrows went up in astonishment. My brain was trying to explain what I was experiencing, but it couldn’t. So then I simply unplugged the clock, carried it to my office and set it on the shelf over my desk where it sits today.

Whenever I see it, I remember.

And that’s all I have to say on the subject of death.

Paul D. Wood

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