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Ways of Seeing: A new awareness of Angels

As I grow older, my mind sometimes goes places faster than my typing fingers can keep up or ideas get conflated with one another when I am trying to express them. Concepts that at one time seemed “too far out there” are starting to seem possible as I am learning to see things in different ways.
It has been both disconcerting and exciting as I gradually slide into a state of acceptance that there might be angels abroad in the world. I grew up in a wonderfully scientific household. My dad was a physicist, my mom a nutritionist, and both firmly believed that this physical world, the one we see and experience every day, is the only reality. They were very tolerant of other people’s religious and spiritual beliefs, but clearly they didn’t believe in “any of that.” They lived by a law of love and felt that we all had an obligation to help others, but they could explain all of our kindnesses to one another without the help of any religion.
When I got involved with the Quakers, they were curious, supportive and not really surprised. I had been a girl who always had my head in a book and the line between myth, metaphor, fantasy and “reality” was always somewhat blurred for me. But the use of words like “angel” was another thing altogether. It was a word that even in my mind meant superstitious attempts to explain the workings of the world.
So, it was a bit of a surprise to find myself engaging with Nori, a living angel, half a dozen years ago. She was my daughter-in-law’s acute care nurse in Boston. Amazingly skilled, very well educated and experienced, she had dedicated her life to serving her patients. In the darkest night of the many weeks we spent in the bone-marrow transplant unit, the doctors had all decided that Susannah would need to be put on a dialysis machine the next day. None of the treatments seemed to be making any difference and this was their last gasp idea. Nori stood her ground, said we needed to be given just one more night for things to turn around, and the doctors (wisely) relented. By dawn it was clear that recovery was in sight. We joked that Nori was our guardian angel, but the truth is, she was.
When my father was dying last summer, we decided that mom needed a loving presence in their home. Dad had been slipping in and out of consciousness for many days when Alexis came for her interview as a potential home-sharer. She went into his bedroom to meet dad and then sat with us on the porch. Twenty minutes later Ethan, who was leaving for Switzerland the next day, went in to say goodbye. He came back to say that dad had passed on. Clearly, dad had just waited to be sure mom would be in good hands. And she totally was. We often joked in the following months that Alexis (an herbalist and yoga teacher who is also practicing to become a lay Hindu nun) was the next guardian angel to protect our family.
These two women are stunning examples of angelic caring. Thanks to them, I am becoming more comfortable with the word “angel” and beginning to see those qualities manifested in other people. Indeed there may be angelic qualities in all of us waiting to be seen. It is not a stretch to think that a few years from now I’ll be able to see angels even when they aren’t embodied in my friends and neighbors.
Cheryl Mitchell is president of Treleven, a retreat and learning program located on her family’s sheep farm in Addison County. She does freelance consulting on issues related to children, families, social policy and farm to community work.

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