Life is precious. This phrase is used so frequently that the power in these words can begin to lose strength. Oftentimes, people do not pause long enough to consider the true meaning behind cliches until those phrases become reality. This is what happened to Zach Sobiech and his family when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer—osteosarcoma—at the age of 14.
While Zach passed away after a hard-fought battle on May 20, 2013, his story has continued to inspire others to live purposefully and with perseverance. This is in part through the memoir, Fly a Little Higher, which was written by his mother, Laura Sobiech, shortly after his passing. Now we have Clouds, a feature-length film on Disney Plus. Directed by Justin Baldoni, Clouds dramatizes Zach’s decision to live the last year of his life in faithful pursuit of his dreams.
The opening scene is narrated by Zach (Fin Argus), who notes the invincibility felt by teens and how they incorrectly think that “tomorrow might be a better day to start chasing (their) dreams.” This type of mindset is probably indicative of most people. Because our lives are often lived in patterns—going to work, hanging out with certain friends, daily responsibilities—we become complacent with our dreams. We put off the book we have been trying to write, the business we wanted to launch, the new small group we meant to start at church. We begin each day with the intention of taking that first step, only to let our daily routines stop us. We put off our dreams for tomorrow.
Zach’s perspective allowed him to live differently. Early on in the movie, we recognize his comfort with crowds and gift for songwriting at a school talent show, when he performs in place of his best friend Sammy (Sabrina Carpenter) after she succumbs to stage fright. Although already undergoing treatment for cancer, Zach doesn’t think twice about performing in front of a crowded auditorium, even though he hasn’t prepared ahead of time. He exudes confidence when making a lighthearted joke about his appearance and lack of hair, proceeding to sing an exaggerated rendition of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” After Zach’s impromptu performance, his mother reads some of the song lyrics that he has written. She encourages him to not try and imitate anyone else, but to offer the world his own unique gifts.
Later, when Zach learns that the cancer is no longer responding to chemo treatments and that he is terminal, we see him wrestling with his purpose. Continuing with school and preparing for college seems pointless in light of the fact that doctors have given him less than 10 months to live. His mother reminds him that while the gravity of what he is facing is difficult, he has been given the opportunity to dictate the legacy he will leave behind.
Clouds dramatizes Zach’s decision to live the last year of his life in faithful pursuit of his dreams.
While going over his advance directive, Zach tells his mom that he wants Jesus’ parable of the talents read at his funeral. This passage of scripture details how a master entrusted three of his servants with money and his response to their stewardship. The first two servants received praise because they took action and increased the return on the master’s investments. The last servant, however, tells his master that he “was afraid and went out and hid (the) gold in the ground.” As a result, that servant received discipline and what little he was entrusted with was taken away. How often have we been afraid to act on the gifts and opportunities God has given us? We often come up with excuses and try to rationalize our way out of taking that first step.
Zach could have easily succumbed to feelings of defeat. The prognosis from doctors and the reality of how his body was fairing did not leave him nor his friends and family much hope. And yet, God gave him the ability to see that he still had time left to dream. While his body had stopped reacting to treatments, Zach was blessed with enough strength to get out of bed each day. He still had the ability to play guitar and enough creativity to pen songs. He pushed past his fears and became intentional with his gifts and whatever time he had left. He was determined to inspire others and bring them happiness.
Writing songs was a collaborative process; Zach worked with Sammy to write lyrics drawn on their close relationship and life experiences. The first song they uploaded to YouTube—“Fix Me Up”—was created by Sammy writing a line and Zach writing the next one in response. He would then create the acoustic guitar chord progressions. Their song quickly gained thousands of views and led Zach on a path to having his song “Clouds” recorded with a music label. Xylophone accompaniment helped give this song an airy and light tone as Zach was candid about his battle with cancer coming to an end. With each new opportunity to share his music with a larger audience, Zach said “yes,” believing that his music was having a positive impact.
Life is precious. Life is fleeting. But faith is eternal. Zach knew that his time was limited and that he could no longer wait for the right moment to pursue his dreams. He took what he knew—that he had a love for music—and took the next step by sharing that love with the world. The faith he exhibited in 2013 is still impacting others today. His story of faith and hope in the face of a terminal illness is still giving others hope to use their own gifts for the betterment of others. To echo the exhortation given in Clouds’ closing credits: “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living.” You don’t have to allow fear to dictate the course of your dreams. You can choose to live by faith.