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“You Are a Messenger”

He was spending all his free time searching for angels. It was more than just a hobby.

Angel collection

“Be prepared for the worst,” the fire chief warned us that January night last year. “There’s been a lot of damage.”

A little after midnight my neighbors and I had been forced out into the cold by a blaze in our apartment building. Now, hours later, the fire extinguished, it was finally safe for us to reenter our homes—what was left of them, anyway—and collect a few essential belongings.

Accompanied by a firefighter and a Red Cross volunteer, I opened the door to my apartment, feeling sick with anxiety. I didn’t have renter’s insurance. What if I had lost everything? My furniture, my clothes, my books and—I didn’t even want to think about it—my collection. No amount of money could begin to replace that.

Hurriedly I swept a flashlight about the rooms. Did I dare hope? In the hallway, the bedrooms, nothing was amiss. The dining room was untouched. A little water from the firefighters hoses had seeped into the kitchen, and there was a small puddle on the floor in the front bathroom.

That, miraculously, was the extent of the damage to my apartment. Yes, it was the unit farthest from the source of the fire. But it was also the only unit in the building that was home to more than 200 angels.

I moved the flashlight, slowly now, over the figurines filling the shelves and covering the walls of my living room. Watching the beam pick up glints of gold and silver off their wings, I knew: My angels had protected me once again.

Not that I’d understood their power when I bought my first figurine at a roadside flea market one weekend seven years earlier. I am an avid collector, and over the years, I’d amassed quite a few collections, including coins, stamps and newspaper memorabilia. At the flea market, though, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I walked among the booths, my gaze skimming over the different items on display.

I lingered, however, over a small, beautifully rendered porcelain angel, struck by the face in particular, which seemed so lifelike I could imagine the angel speaking to me. And in a way, she was. I bought that one and another, and took them home. That’s how my most treasured collection began—by accident. Or so I thought.

When people asked me why I was taken with angels, I was at a loss for an explanation. I wasn’t sure myself why I was suddenly spending nearly all my free time searching for them or why I was driving around with a tiny plastic cherub perched on my dashboard; I only knew I felt compelled to do so.

Oddly I never had any thought of selling this collection, as I had others. Odder still, I began doing things no hard-nosed collector would, such as buying figurines that were in less-than-perfect condition.

Once I was in a gift shop looking at a group of angels when I noticed one had a cracked wing. “Isn’t that too bad,” I murmured to myself, tracing the jagged fissure in the ceramic with my finger. The salesperson, overhearing me, said quickly, “I’ll give you that one for free.” She looked relieved to be getting rid of damaged merchandise. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get home to mend that fractured wing.

My angels came to mean so much to me that when I noticed the cherub in my car was missing, I felt like I had lost a friend. Its disappearance made the rough patch I was going through in my life seem even worse. Eventually I found the figure under the driver’s seat, its wings broken off. Apparently it had fallen off the ledge by the speedometer, and I had unwittingly stepped on it.

I carried the pieces inside. As I washed the grime off the plastic, I began to feel better, lighter, as if I were being cleansed of my troubles as well. When I glued the wings back into place, for the first time in months I felt confident that things would fall back into place for me too.

And they did. I found a job I love, working as a publications editor at Harvard University. Still an explanation for my strong, almost instinctual response to angels eluded me.

In 1995, my parents asked me to come back home to Missouri to clean out the belongings I had left in their basement. I spent days going through boxes full of things from my childhood. I was astonished to find a number of angels that I had crafted long ago in grade school.

There was one made of scraps of cloth, another decoupaged onto a wooden plaque, still another of papier-mâché, with yellow yarn for hair. Why had I chosen to make angels while my classmates were more interested in animals and cars? Perhaps it was no accident I had started collecting angels 20 years later.

Some months after my trip home, my brother and his wife gave me a book about angels. One night I settled into my easy chair and opened up the volume. Though I know a lot about words, I did not know the definition of angel. But there it was right in the book: The word is derived from the Greek angelos, or messenger.

All at once powerful memories came surging back, memories from college, a difficult time I had no inclination to revisit. Until now.

In college I was homesick, depressed, miserably confused about my direction in life. I loved writing but I had deep misgivings as to whether I was cut out for the competitive field of journalism. The anxiety of not knowing where I was headed grew until it was almost unbearable.

During the last semester of my senior year I became physically ill. A doctor diagnosed the flu, and I was sent back to my off-campus apartment to rest and recover. But I only got worse. Soon I was hyperventilating and throwing up constantly.

I had just crawled into the bathroom one night and was trying to muster the strength to sit up, when suddenly I found myself looking down at my own body on the floor, curled up like a comma. Somehow I no longer felt the cold tile against my cheek or the terrible nausea that had racked me for days.

Instead, I felt myself being pulled upward. It seemed as if I no longer had a physical body, and I went through the apartment ceiling and the roof of the building itself just as easily as walking through an open door. As I soared over the parking lot, I noticed my roommate’s car was not there.

I shot straight up into the sky, flying through space so fast I was moving past what I took to be stars as if they were no farther apart than streetlights. The stars were singing to me, not a melody or even a language I recognized, yet it was, without question, the most beautiful music I had ever heard. It suffused me with a joy I had never known.

Then, out of this magnificent swirl of sound, individual voices emerged. I didn’t hear what they were saying so much as feel it. Some were pitched high, others low, all of them telling me there had been a mistake, and I must go back. But why? I didn’t want to let go of this incredible feeling! As if in answer, one voice, deep and authoritative, rose above the rest: “All will be explained in time. You are a messenger, and now you must go back.” Reluctantly I obeyed.

The next thing I knew I was lying in a hospital bed, woozy but awake. “Your roommate found you in the last stages of a diabetic coma,” a doctor told me. “You are very fortunate to be here.”

You are very fortunate, I repeated to myself. And then, in my mind, I again heard the otherworldly voices. You are a messenger.

Years later, sitting in my easy chair, with my new book in my lap, I finally made the connection. I write for a number of publications, I edit other people’s work and I also teach writing at Harvard. I’ve discovered the joy of helping to bring ideas to others. Is that why I’m so drawn to angels? Because I am a messenger too?

And what of the stars that sang to me as I went on my strange journey? Could they have been angels? I think they were.

In fact, I have come to believe that in our moments of need, these celestial messengers intercede on our behalf.

How can I be so sure?

Well, there was that fire last year. Though my apartment itself was in good condition, the building was so badly damaged that all the residents were forced to move immediately. It’s not easy to find housing in the Boston area, especially on short notice, but with the help of a rental agent, I found a new apartment I liked right away.

The prospective landlady wasn’t convinced about me though. “I’ve had previous tenants—single guys—who were irresponsible,” she said, giving me the once-over. “Besides, why do you need so much space for just one person?”

I hesitated. Finally I answered, “I have quite a large collection.”

“Oh yeah? What do you collect?”

I told her.

“You collect angels?” she exclaimed with a smile. “So do I!”

Right then and there we signed the lease, and I started moving in that afternoon. The first thing I brought into my new apartment was a box containing some of my angels—though I knew that, really, they had preceded me there.

Download your free ebook Angel Sightings: 7 Inspirational Stories About Heavenly Angels and Everyday Angels on Earth.

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