It saddens my friend Michael, a free spirit with eyes like bluebirds, to see people walking along and looking only straight ahead or at the ground. He feels they're missing so many of the upward things of life, like clouds for example. Michael's a printer and spends most of his days under phosphorescent lights, amidst the gray clink of type and plates, emerging from the shop just in time, as he says, ''for the roof of the evening to fall on my head.'' Clouds are a rare sight for those eyes of his and therefore very precious.
If you had been in my city a few mornings ago you might have chanced to see a short, bearded person standing in the middle of the financial district and holding a very professionally printed sign. That was Michael, on his day off, staging a sort of rally for clouds, offering a whimsical remedy to straight-aheadedness and downwardness. His sign proclaimed, ''CLOUD-WATCHING SCENE IN PROGRESS! COME ONE, COME ALL!''
Up in the dab of blue sky that showed between the tall, grim buildings beautiful fleecy clouds were drifting by. They might have been sleepy geese, or the dreams of stars stuck in the mud of space, searching with God's help for a place to come true. Michael stood silently looking up, not importuning anybody, just letting his sign sing encouragement to people please to stop and look up, too. Sadly, none were heeding. A few glanced up out of curiosity but did not break stride. People were as usual in a hurry to keep their next appointment with survival. They didn't want anything like clouds to get in their way.
Onward past this prophet-like figure swept the hordes of survivors. Sometimes , not often, one would linger a moment and ask a bewildered question. ''What are you,'' asked a man with a briefcase in each hand, ''some kind of weatherman?'' Before Michael could answer, ''Well, yes!'' he hurried away, shaking his head. And once, a debunker of his dogged vigil called out as she hurried by, ''Look at that, would you? A cloud freak!''
''True!'' Michael answered, and not without pride. For what was wrong with being a cloud freak? In this sky-topped circus of life a person could do worse. A cloud freak didn't hurt anybody. He only had a cloudy message to deliver. A message whose gist was that people spent far too much time looking in mirrors, those glassy cobwebs, and at paper clips, those little servants of the devil, and at walls, those solid states of pure inanity, and far too little time looking at clouds, those reminders that there was more to life than survival.
It wasn't until nearly noon that the first intrepid comers, three of them, joined my friend. Introducing himself and the others as rabbis from Jerusalem here in the States on a visit, their spokesman said with a half-envious, half-reproachful smile, ''So you don't work for a living, young man? You just stand here on the corner all day and watch the clouds go by?''
''I do work for a living, rabbi, but I don't wish to live by bread alone,'' Michael said. ''I wish to live by dreams and clouds also.''
Then, their four beards--the rabbis' combed and stiff, and Michael's windblown--tilted up at the sky; all of them looked at the clouds together.
''I haven't done this since I was a boy,'' said one rabbi.
''Look, that cloud is winking at me,'' said another.
''No, it's not,'' said the third. ''It's winking at me.''
Little by little, noticing this animated discussion, other intrepid ones began to stop and look up, too, as if maybe some miracle were in progress in the sky; as if maybe the flag of that impractical but enduring nation known as the soul were passing. It wasn't long before the four tilted beards were joined by assorted beardlessnesses--men, women, and children.
The revolution had begun!