A number of recent events have prompted me to rethink the whole idea of angels.
Not the kind that stood in front of Balaam’s donkey or wrestled with Jacob, but — please just indulge me — angels more closely in line with the popular conception, the warm, caring presences that surround us with light. Not literally, of course, but one can almost imagine the goodness radiating out from them.
A friend of mine recently had a brush with death.
She won. As it happens, even in the moment when she sensed that she had the option of simply letting go, she did not see a tunnel or hear her grandmother’s voice beckoning her. An uber-rationalist, she probably would scoff at my notion of angels. But the story she told later, of the two friends who saved, and later guarded, her life, sent my thoughts soaring heavenward.
One friend rushed her to the hospital and stayed with her pretty much throughout the several weeks of heart-stopping uncertainty. The other joined her almost immediately at the hospital, not so much to keep vigil but to do whatever needed to be done. You can’t pay that back.
And then there was the manager of the Paramus restaurant.
My sick friend’s daughter came out every day from Queens, maintaining a harrowing schedule to do so. When, at last, her mom was out of ICU, she took a much-needed break to celebrate New Year’s Eve in her family’s traditional way, dining at a particular restaurant with New Jersey friends.
Rallying temporarily and wanting somehow to thank her daughter, my friend — let’s call her D — called the restaurant, asking them to accept her credit card number to pay for her daughter’s dinner. The restaurant said it couldn’t do that.
Even at death’s door, D is a force to be reckoned with. She asked for the manager, explained the situation (no doubt in a shaky, medicated voice), and was told not to worry, that the restaurant would provide appetizers free of charge, with no expectation of repayment. (They will, of course, be repaid, but what a gesture!)
My personal angel died this past week. Dr. Sam Cassell — doctor, humanitarian, visionary — was my family’s internist long before he founded BVMI, the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative — which provides health care to the working poor. When my daughter was younger, she suffered a breathing problem, for which he suggested we go straight to the hospital. Just in case she needed an Epipen, he drove in the car behind us, ready to administer whatever help was needed. Who does that?
Last week, I met a few other angels, staff, and volunteers at the Federation Apartments in Paterson, helping to provide programming and special food for its residents to start off the new year. (OK, so it took place January 8. Almost last week.) Interesting place — fabulous mix of races, religions, and accents. But the people who serve them treated them all as honored guests, and their joy shone through.
This year, I want to be an angel as well. I want to help without being asked, to serve without recognition, to pay forward every wonderful gift I’ve ever received. Who knows, maybe the better angels of our nature can prevail, creating a powerful force for good in a troubled world.