My angel flew in, steering the wheel of his dad’s dark-green Buick, a pack of cigarettes tucked in the waistband of his blue jeans. No halo lit his face, only the red glow of his Marlboro. His name wasn’t Gabriel, but Michael, although he would hardly call himself a saint, even now.
I was just getting ready to light up my first cigarette, to be cool, because that’s the goal when one is 16. But Michael assured me that only one girl in our class could inhale properly, and that wasn’t me. So I put down the lighter. You can’t be cool if you can’t inhale. With that one comment, my angel saved me from a lifetime of standing outside in the cold at breaktime, repairing charred burn holes in the couch cover, spending thousands of dollars on Virginia Slims, battling lung cancer, lip cancer or the like.
He showed up to save me at a time I didn’t even know I needed saving. ’Cause that’s what angels do.
In the time of day when the air is brisk and hearts are calm, a fire whistle will blow, shrill and piercing. Volunteers will drop what they’re doing, tear away from their jobs at the flaker mill or the insurance office or the telephone company, and scurry to the firehall where fire trucks and ambulances stand ready. In towns along a highway corridor, an EMT told me, 90 percent of the calls they answer are to tend to folks they know.
They go anyway.
They put in long nights with scant sleep when a careless smoker turns a golden harvest field into a quarter section of flame. When a boat sinks. A car veers off the road. A child dashes into traffic. A demon critter becomes enraged and traps a man in a corner of the pen where he is trampled. They study the cardiovascular system, wound care, neck braces, and CPR, things the average citizen understands vaguely, mostly that it needs to be known and carried out. These volunteers miss their child’s first football game, family dinners, a spouse’s birthday and poker night.
They go anyway.
Like angels, they fly in because they understand we’re all only one foot on either side of a yellow stripe running down the center of the highway from an accident and its consequences. No matter how conscientious we are behind the wheel, no matter how promising our life stretches out before us, no matter how many folks depend on us and love us and care about our future—accidents happen. We are powerless to stop them. They are never intended to happen, but they happen anyway. And as they do, they can stop time. Measure time. Mark time. Forever.
That’s when the angels show up. Sometimes they wear EMT shirts and firefighter hats, but sometimes they don’t wear anything special at all. They stand beside hospital beds. They show up with casseroles. They capture the tears of grieving students and little boys, family members and friends. They pray. They hold hands. They listen. They give advice. They keep their mouth shut. They put out cigarettes. Sometimes angels don’t know if there’s anything they can say or do to help at all.
They show up anyway.