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This Cardinal Reminded Her That Angels Were Nearby

The heaven-sent bird may have helped save her from a terrible fall.

A Cardinal perched on top of a ladder; Illustration by Michael Glenwood

Cardinals seemed to love my backyard. I watched them cavort one sunny morning as I sat on the patio with my coffee. “Cardinals appear when angels are near,” my friend was fond of saying. She knew I believed in angels. I started each day with Psalm 91, “For he will give his angels charge over thee.” It had been a habit since grade school, and now with a daughter in law enforcement and four grandchildren in the military, the psalm was never far from my lips.

I sat quietly for a moment, meditating on my prayer, when a cardinal suddenly whizzed by my head. I’d never seen one come so close! The strange little bird flew around me again and again. “Hey!” I said, waving my hand when it got a little too close. The bird landed right by my feet and sat there staring right at me for a long moment before flying off again.

That was strange, I thought, but it was time for me to tackle some chores. First up, I was overdue for a trip to Goodwill. I’d accumulated several big plastic garbage bags of bedding and clothes I knew could be of use. While I dropped them off, my husband, Wilson, could go up to the storage attic in the garage, where we kept the decorative trees for the patio. They made my cardinal-watching this time of year all the more enjoyable.

On my way through the house to the door that led to the garage, I found Wilson fast asleep in front of the blaring TV. I decided not to wake him. His back had been troubling him and he needed his rest. I can get those trees myself, I thought, half-closing the door behind me so as not to disturb him. I’d surprise him with my can-do spirit.

I moved some of his tools out of the way to reach the metal ladder that leaned against the wall near my Goodwill bags. I had to get them out of here. “Don’t get distracted, Frannie,” I told myself. “First the trees, then the bags.” They weren’t in my way. The floor area under the attic was completely clear for me to set up the ladder. One thing at a time.

I dragged the ladder across the concrete floor and spread it open. Halfway up the rungs, I glanced back at the bags for Goodwill. None of them were anywhere near enough to interfere, but what a mess. I continued my climb, and two steps from the top I was able to push open the hatch.

As I did, I looked down. This is a lot higher up than I expected.

I stepped up to the very top of the ladder, pushing my upper body into the attic. With my hands on the attic floor, I looked around and spotted the trees I needed. I raised one leg to climb into the attic and froze. I wasn’t sure how to lift myself inside.

Maybe I should wait for Wilson after all, I thought. No surprise was worth a bad fall. I lowered my foot back down a rung—and missed the step completely. The ladder shook beneath me. I tried to steady myself with my hands flat on the attic floor, one foot on the shaky ladder, the other swinging in the air. “Wilson!” I called. Of course, he didn’t hear me, asleep in front of the blaring TV with the door half closed.

My foot found the ladder rung again. Now I just had to step down…

The ladder toppled right out from under me and clattered hard on the concrete floor. I dangled, losing my grip. Oh, God, give me wings! I thought. My hands slipped. I was going to fall! “He will give his angels charge…”

Before I could finish my prayer, I landed on something soft. The Goodwill bags had cushioned my whole body except for my left foot. “Frannie?” Wilson called from the house. “What was that?” I heard him come running.

Instead of going to Goodwill, we took a trip to the hospital. My foot was broken, and I needed surgery to fix it, but otherwise I was fine. I told Wilson the whole story. “The ladder just came out from under me,” I tried to explain.

“Did you lock it?” he wanted to know.

“I didn’t know I had to!”

“I don’t understand why you didn’t fall straight down onto the concrete floor,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense that your body found a cushion.”

“The Lord gave his angels charge over me.”

“Yes, he did,” Wilson said. “He sure did.”

I remembered that bold little cardinal who’d made itself known that morning. Angels had been nearer than I ever realized. And I would enjoy them during my recovery, on my patio with the decorative trees.

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