“Oh, she’s an angel”, or “Thank you, you’re an angel” are comments that I sometimes hear, and often following an act of kindness or generosity. Maybe such comments are more common in the older generation nowadays, but I am used to hearing them. It is always a comment that startles me for a moment, and I wonder.
I believe in angels; I always have done. Admittedly my understanding of them has grown and developed over the years with the experiences of life. To put it simply, I believe that angels are the physical embodiment of the Spirit that guides, supports, encourages, and challenges us in our daily lives. The Spirit may manifest itself through people, or indeed animals that we are close to, such as our dog or cat.
My mother believed in angels too. She had experienced a troubling incident when she was about fourteen years old, whilst playing in a field in the village with her friend Laura and younger sister, Muriel. She always believed that the angel had saved them, and a view that was firmly supported by her friend and sister when questioned by my grandparents. Many years later when I was nine years old during an eventful Sunday school outing to Skegness, I was inadvertently abandoned and wasn’t noticed as missing until the end of the day. I still remember my father being very angry over the incident and the apparent negligence of my Sunday School teachers, but with my mother calmly replying. “Barrie’s fine, the angels would have looked after him.”
Mother’s faith was no nonsense and black and white, as was her later career in nursing. She was no pushover and could spot an untruth before I even opened my mouth. As I was growing up, she often referred to angels that surround us in our everyday lives, yet only rarely referred to the ‘incident’ that she had shared with her friend and sister. My father discouraged her from talking about it, since he thought it made my mother sound foolish. Later in her life, I questioned her many times about what she had seen, and the answer was always the same with a crystal-clear memory. “They are all around us”, she would say, “Just keep an open mind and you will see”.
Later, as a newly qualified teacher, I remember attempting to teach ‘the Annunciation’ to my class of nine-year-olds. The subject content for this age group troubled me greatly, and I felt neither qualified nor competent to deal with it. Despite this, as I was working in a church school, I had to give it a go. Later, I felt that the lesson had gone better than expected, my pupils seemed vaguely interested and I didn’t have any of the anticipated difficult questions about parenthood. I set them to work, predictably to write about the story and add a picture.
Michelle didn’t find writing easy, and I remember seeing her chewing the end of her pencil in deep thought before she committed her well chewed pencil to a fresh page of her religious education book. It took her some time to complete, followed by drawing a picture. When she had finished, she proudly presented her work to me as I sat at my desk.
‘Mary and the Fairy’ proclaimed the title, followed by two brief sentences describing the visitation to Mary by “the fairy”. Michelle’s accompanying picture of the angel was very similar to a fairy that had recently been placed on the school Christmas Tree, together with a very plump Mary who had a huge blob around her middle. Michelle beamed and was clearly very proud of her work; I gave her a gold star. Clearly, I hadn’t done a very good job in explaining the difference between angels and fairies, but I was content that Michelle had realised that Mary’s visitor was someone special. Maybe angels and fairies are the same, who was I to say?
As I progress through life, I have experienced support that I cannot always explain. I have met people who briefly enter my life with words of wisdom, suggestions, encouragement, and support, and often using words that don’t appear to be their own. Sometimes, it is someone that I know that is offering support, but often it is a stranger who enters my life briefly and I never see again.
Although angels are often popular in films, books and songs, they are rarely taken seriously in ‘real life’. I sometimes watch popular films that includes an angel, who is usually someone that you would least expect to represent ‘the heavenly host’. I often find it hard to dismiss these as fiction, since I suspect there is some truth behind the representation. I believe that angels are with us, supporting and helping us every day of our lives. The question is whether “You are an angel” comment refers to someone who is particularly kind or has done a good deed, or is really an angel? My guess is, it doesn’t matter.
© Barrie Mahoney 2023
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