A Partly Cloudy Reminder of Truth in Love

Last night, after Easter entertaining, my husband and I collapsed on the couch and, flipping through the channels, found a re-broadcasting of Pixar’s wonderful short film, “Partly Cloudy”, which you can see here.

Enjoying it again, I told my husband I had actually written about the short, tying it into Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

The piece was lost-in-transit from First Things to Patheos, but I was able to reconstruct most of it — the internet is a glorious thing — and I thought I’d link. It’s kind of a good Easter Monday meditation, I think:

There are storks. There are numerous clouds upon each of which sits a Creator. With our Christian sensibilities, let us allow that the thousands of cloud Creators, enlivening beautiful babies and adorable puppies and kittens, depict the Triune God, omnipresent and yet “individual” (or, “personal”) to each of us. The storks do the Creator’s bidding, spreading his love (via new life, new creation) throughout the world. But Creation, in order to be perfect, balanced and complete, requires – along with all of that lovable goodness – the presence of the unlovable, the different and the mysterious.

Creating the dangerous-yet-necessary balancing truths is the God-aspect of Dark Clouds. He is as much a part of the Omniscient as the rest of the clouds, and he brings forth new life, but in the form of alligators that bite, rams that buck, porcupines that sting.

He births the difficult and demands their delivery unto the world, for he knows what is not obvious; that the difficult and the challenging help hone and build “the strength for the life” of the world, what Caritas in Veritate calls “human development.”

It is left to one bedraggled-but-intrepid, faithful stork to put forth into the world the difficulties and challenges of the Creator, and the wordless exchanges between master and servant in this cartoon are eloquent of the dialogue of the life of faith.

“Here, I am Lord, I come to do your will – even though it bites, and I don’t understand.”
I am so glad you are here; I love you.

“Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will – even if it bucks, because I trust.”
I see what this trust is costing you; I love you.

“Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will – but it stings, and I cannot escape.”
I will wipe away every tear and clutch you to my bosom in my deep love.

“Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth.”
– Introduction, Caritas in Veritate

The stork’s loyalty is very affecting, particularly when his feathers fall from his body and you realize that yes, all of this obedience, it costs the stork something. It is not painless. But he is a stork, and the delivery is his job, and he understands, confirms and practices those two truths.

Note the cloud-Creator in the film: Though what he creates is less obviously “good” than the rest, he completely and unabashedly loves all of it. And he loves his obedient and loyal servant so much that, seeing the lost feathers and woebegone expression, his compassion is moved; he removes the stingers, he caresses the ache, he clutches the stork to his breast in commiseration and a fervent attempt to console.

He is fully aware of the cost to the stork, and looks after his leave-taking with concern, and his every arrival with anxious assessment. But the cloud-Creator does not in any way deny or dilute the truth: he is there to create, and to love; the stork is there to love, and to deliver. In that truth, great charity, great love, great understanding and something like a commonality of respect resides.

In Caritas in Veritate, Benedict writes:

“Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived…Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love.”

This is true. Truth is humility, because it is true, even if — in our pride or our reason — we do not want to accept it. When the cloud-Creator and the Stork look at the other clouds, the easy, fun, joyful parts of creation, they long a little for the gooey-sentiment of perfection that seems to reside there.

But they know that perfection is not an entire and balanced truth; perfection is an illusion, just as “relative” truth is an illusion.

Finally, the long-suffering stork, faced with what appears to be more than he can bear, flies off to a different cloud-Creator, to one that seems extra-fluffy and incapable of dishing out anything but good times. The wounded God of Dark Clouds is shaken. He stomps a bit of lightening and then, heartbroken, he weeps at this seeming rejection. He does not chase after the stork, though, because, as Benedict writes,

“Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom and of the possibility of integral human development.”
– CiV, Introduction

Fidelity to his stork requires the same fidelity to the truth; God IS who He is, and cannot change. The stork is free to be who he is, as well, and to accept the intrinsic challenges in being the “difficult delivery” stork that will allow him to develop to his maximum potential.

The stork, however, is also free to leave, to try to change things, even to reject the Creator and his truth, and his love, for what may seem like an easier life.

His leaving cannot change who the stork is, though. It can only change his circumstances.

The anguish of the cloud-Creator is short-lived but rooted in the stork’s apparent choice to move against truth. The cloud-Creator wails out loud. Does he weep for himself, in his abandonment, or for the stork who has moved against truth? Or for both?

The stork returns, carrying a protective helmet and shoulderpads; as prayer fortifies a lived-out faith, they fortify his lived-out mission. The stork manfully takes up his striking burden, and life goes on – creation continues, in truth. Caritas in Veritate; the Creator and the servant love each other, in the truth that is love, and the love that is truth. It is a lesson to be learned by each of us, as individuals, but that becomes more difficult in a world where created individuals are subsumed by ever-larger state-entities:

To regard development as a vocation is to recognize, on the one hand, that it derives from a transcendent call, and on the other hand that it is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning. Not without reason the word “vocation” is also found in another passage of the [Paul VI's Encyclical Populorum Progressio], where we read: “There is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute, and is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its true meaning.”
…A vocation is a call that requires a free and responsible answer. Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility.
Caritas in Veritate, Sections 16, 17


Benedict wants us to know that the world is changing,
but that truth never changes; that good and evil hang beside each other on neighboring crosses; that economic models rooted in human “truths” (and not Divine Truth) will only deepen what is difficult, exploitative, stagnant and false; that governments too-easily pay lip-service to “humanity,” while forgetting the human beings therein; that policies built on lies can never be true, and what is not true, cannot have charity . . . or love.

None of that is new. In fact, it’s an old, old message. But we need to really hear it, or ignore it at our own peril.

You can read the whole encyclical here. I will take my serving in small bites and mull them over by my own lights, rather than simply listening to what others say about it. I suggest you do likewise, and not put a lot of stock into my own cartoon-inspired musings.

See how Caritas in Veritate resonates with you.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • anon for now

    God slapped me upside the haid as I came here this evening and watched this video. My autistic son had a horrible meltdown just before dinner and I was slightly injured (tripped, not hit by him). I was so depressed and ready to ship him off to a residential home. I am just so tired. But your post was a moment of grace for me. this is where I walk the walk of my faith and embrace the cross He has given me. Thank you Elizabeth you are truly a channel of His grace.

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    Anon, I am keeping y in my prayers. I hope you have friendly support and a spiritual advisor that yu can trust?

  • Tom

    Elizabeth,

    You have a gift. Thank you for sharing it. Scales have dropped from my eyes this very night.

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  • http://www.woodeene.blogspot.com Woodeene

    What I love most about this film is that the stork doesn’t ask why he doesn’t get the cuddly kittens and the wiggly puppies. He realizes that the answer to “why” is never going to be satisfactory, because it is always “because.” Instead he accepts his mission and does it without complaint. All too often, that is our life, as well. We don’t get to ask “why: the tough times come, or the mountain sheep butt, or the eels shock. We just have to put on the armor and go forth.

  • Carolyn McMurray

    The video has been taken down by Disney, so I did not see it, but this is a wonderful article. I had been feeling very impatient with some demanding friends (a very small problem compared to anon’s and I also love these friends). Your article reminded me that it is through the interplay of joy with sorrow and sacrifice that we grow and actually find our greatest long term happiness. It’s a paradox, but the experiences of my life have borne it out.

    In my state of Vermont, we have been fighting efforts to legalize assisted suicide for years. The reason some people want it is the same reasons why it is so very dangerous: the all too human tendency to want to fly off to another cloud where the weather is always fair. That holds for those who want to die because they fear being dependent (not, according to the Oregon statistics, being in pain, which can usually be well-controlled), but especially, and especially dangerously, for caretakers, on a family governmental or societal level.

    I have been a caretaker and know that it can seem almost beyond what anyone can bear. I am thankful I had respite support, and thankful that I did not run away any more than I did. It makes me so sad that, due to child care responsibilities and simply the need to escape, I was not there when my mother unexpectedly died in the hospice from which we were going to bring her home the next day.

    During my mother’s hospice intake interview, the nurse suddenly asked her (this was in 1991, so I HOPE it was to ascertain whether she was suicidal and provide suicide prevention intervention if she was) whether she would consider using the pain medications she would receive to end her life. My mother looked surprised and hurt and said she might. I instinctively said that she would not, because I would care for her, taking charge of her medications and help her use them to combat pain, not to kill herself. She looked relieved and never mentioned suicide again in the two more months she lived.

    In retrospect the nurse’s question and my mother’s reactions to her and to me tell me that even suggesting suicide as an option can lead to vulnerable people’s thinking of it as a solution not just to their own fear and sadness but to the problems they are causing others. The nurse’s question tells me legalized assistance in suicide is not necessary, because any dying person in hospice care already has ample means to commit suicide, The whole experience of caretaking tells me that what a dying patient needs and the family of a dying person needs is support, not assistance in flying off to that other, supposedly better, cloud.

    Care-taking is the hardest thing I ever did, and I know I did not always do it well. There were times when I became impatient with my mother or the other family members helping me care for her. In an atmosphere of legal assisted suicide, she might have taken these normal family interactions as a signal that she should commit suicide. That would not have helped anyone in the family, my mother, my sisters, our children, no one. I am so grateful that we stuck with it, showing our mother our love, flawed indeed, but love. I am so glad that those are my memories, not a memory of having stood by her bed and eased her into a death I would always think might have been the results of the imperfections in my love, disguised as “mercy”.

    Our Holy Father is right that charity is not charity unless it is rooted in the Truth that God does not take difficulty away from us but helps us get through the cloudy days and arrive at the sunny ones that we love but that would render our days dry and infertile if they were all we had. Elizabeth, I thank you so much for expressing the necessity for human growth and happiness of what I have sometimes haltingly described as “embracing the difficult”, You expressed it so much better than I ever could. Yes, our lives are partly cloudy. Thanks be to God for that.


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