Each Other’s Angels
I’m always surprised when someone remembers me. Why would Solomon’s granddaughter remember me? I was no one important, and we were together five, maybe six times. No more.
I had daydreamed about playing fairy godmother to her! I thought: If I get the position at the university, I will be able to take Solomon’s granddaughter on hikes! We could ride the train into the city to watch a play, and afterwards, we’d eat sundaes. She made me light up–so funny, so earnest. Shy, until she saw you were listening with interest–and then, she spoke with sparks!
But I didn’t get the job, even with Solomon’s recommendation. Or possibly, because of his recommendation. He fell so quickly, so fast. But he had been an angel to me.
I was offered the position at the university in the city. Of course I accepted. It was hard for a woman philosopher to find a position, even with the secondary emphasis in gender theory and linguistics. It took thirty-five years and dozens of significant publications before I could pick and choose where I wanted to teach, and that’s what led me back here, a few years after Solomon had passed on.
Sometimes, former students will find me in the library. “Oh!” they say, “I became a teacher because of you!” “I became an anthropologist–librarian–mathematician–journalist–researcher, or yes, even philosopher–because of you.”
And I can scarcely remember their names. Had they spoken in class? Had they ever attended office hours?
“You were so important to me.”
I never knew. Did Solomon know how important he had been to me? Surely, I must have told him.
I remember the first time I met him. I’d just arrived in town the day before. I wandered into the lobby of the Humanities Hall. “We are so glad you’re here,” he said, confusing me. How did he know me from the other entering first-year grad students? Weren’t there dozens of us? Was he glad we were all here? He told me later that my application letter, my transcripts, and the recommendations from my undergrad professors singled me out–plus, my GREs were top-rate, especially in logic. “I could tell you would make it. Those types of students–the types like you–are few and far between.”
He was my mentor, and I was his assistant. But I don’t think I really did much for him besides copy articles I’d hunted down in the stacks and listen. I did a lot of listening. But that was for me, not for him.
When I taught in the city, I often walked through the alleys. One of my research focuses for a few years was the constructed realities of those who live outside of the main consensus reality. And it was in the alleys that I found some of my best subjects.
For about four months, I spoke most mornings with Oskar, a leather-skinned man in a crusty Greek fisherman’s cap, a wool jacket on cold days or a striped polo shirt on warm ones. His corner was behind the pet shop, and sometimes, the store clerk brought out a cat or puppy to sit with him.
Holding a calico kitten in his lap, Oskar told me once, “We are each other’s angels. How does God work? He has no form. He has only this.” He gestured around him to the backs of the buildings on either side of the alley, grimy from exhaust and dirt, to the slice of the bay we could see at the alley’s end, to a dandelion, growing from a crack in the cement. He held out his two hands.
“How does Spirit work, when Spirit has no form? It must enter form. And then, we can do God’s bidding. We become his angels.” Oskar nodded as he rubbed the kitten’s ears.
Who are my angels now? There is a singer in a Korean pop band whom I love–he lights up when he sings. He records videos for his fans with his i-Phone and posts them to YouTube. He is so candid, so fresh, so unrehearsed. In the comments, teen girls write, “I stopped self-harming because of you.” “I used to spend all day in bed. But when you say, ‘Let’s all be happy,’ I get up. I try. And now, I am happy, too.” “Thank you for helping me love again.” We might think this isn’t real–he is an idol, and they are idolizing him.
But I have been observing my own responses–yes, even me, an old lady. His black eyes are soft–he lights up. There is no other way to say it. And what stirs in us? What stirs in him? It is love.
The work of angels is to teach us love.
My students say, “Because of you, I finished school.”
Kate Elder tells me, “You were so important to me.”
I fall in love with a woman on a street corner, whom I will never see again, most likely, and in that instant, she saves me.
We never know when we are someone’s angel. It’s not our doing. It is love, moving through us. It is Spirit. The best we can do is to be ourselves–honestly, openly, generously, bravely. Then, when Spirit needs to work through our form, we are available. It is not our doing–we are only the containers, the medium. We are each other’s angels.
Prompt for May 10: “Write a story in under 1000 words focusing on creating one brilliant image in your reader’s mind,” from StoryADay.org