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Maybe angels

The Broken Bridge and the Dream, Salvador Dali, 1945

When I was in elementary school, students who were Catholics were let out of school an hour early on Wednesdays to traipse across town for an hour of religious education at a Catholic school.

Prayers were among the things we were taught. One prayer was to our guardian angel. Each of us had one, we were assured. The prayer was eight lines long. I still remember it.

My father was a Catholic and tried to raise my sisters and my brother that way, but I was like Springsteen singing about himself in his song "Growin' Up": "When they said sit down, I stood up." Catholicism wasn't my thing—too many "thou shalt nots"—and I forgot about angels.

But then something strange happened. It was 1975, I had dropped out of college, and just about every aspect of my life had been sucked into a murky whirlpool. One of the ways I coped was by getting high—a lot. One summer night, a couple of hours after supper, I was walking around my small town, no destination in mind. I was on the main street near the railroad tracks that cut our town in half, my brain flailing in the ionosphere, when a young woman approached. She stopped as we were about to pass, then started a conversation in which she told me things about my life there was no way she could have known. No way. Just no freaking way. She would bring up a problem I was dealing with, ask questions, and then suggest solutions. It was the most astonishing conversation I've ever been a part of.

Hmmm, I thought later. I must have met an angel at the railroad crossing. She wasn't dressed particularly well, and she wasn't particularly pretty, like I might have expected from an angel. And, as it turned out, she didn't provide any divine illumination or intervention. But still ...

About 30 years later, I had another jarring experience. This occurred in Portland, Ore., where I was attending a professional conference. Whenever I visit a place I've never been, I check into my hotel room and then head out for a walk. I get a feel for the city that way. Every day, especially in a major city, I take different routes.

On the second day I was in Portland, I was walking on a street where there wasn't much to see, so I wasn't looking in any particular direction. I glanced up and spotted a young woman, about college age, about 30 feet away. She was leaning against a Dumpster, smoking a cigarette. She had been looking at me before I made eye contact, but when I did, her electric-blue-eyed gaze shot through me like an X-ray. Unlike the woman at the railroad crossing, this woman looked as if she had slipped into our world from another, brighter dimension.

We didn't speak. I walked by, not looking at her because I was in some way afraid to look into those eyes again. By the time I'd reached the end of the block, nothing had happened. I wasn't struck later by a lightning bolt of insight. My life didn't change. But the incident is unforgettable: an angel smoking a cigarette.

I have no idea, really, about whether these women were angels, and I'm sure this story may make it sound as if I still get high. Angels, after all, have a religious aura about them—halos, harps, wings and the like. These women had none of those things. God did not enter into the conversation at the railroad crossing, and the divine voice was silent in Portland. Still, I have no other labels to use. And still, I wonder.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 13th, 2015 04:07 pm (UTC)
Maybe the ancient belief is true, that every human possesses a spark of the Divine: emanated, not divided, from the source. In that way, just about anyone could, in the right light, at a certain moment, for a particular other person, be an angel.
Aug. 13th, 2015 04:43 pm (UTC)
That's a better explanation than I've been able to come up with.

But even if I had possessed a spark of the divine, it's long gone, and I don't have a spark plug to fire it up again
Aug. 14th, 2015 04:41 am (UTC)
I think that when people completely cut off from any belief in the otherworldly/ supernatural/ unexplainable, their lives become sad. There is so much we don't know, can't be certain of, cannot explain except by allowing the unknown forces/energies/spirits to do their stuff.

Maybe they were angels. Maybe they were restless souls. Maybe they were humans with extraordinary powers who were sent to you for that moment.

I am not big on that "this photo shows angels in the clouds, share if you've ever been visited by an angel" syrupy stuff. Angels (for lack of a better catchall name) come in all forms and aren't going to be wearing wings when we see them.

As stated above, any of us could be an angel for someone else.
Aug. 14th, 2015 12:29 pm (UTC)
You're right. Things happen for which there seems to be no logical explanation. I tell students my office is haunted; I say this because of two bizarre happenings that were physically impossible. And I agree when you say our lives are less rich if we close our minds.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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