(Christmas is but a fortnight away. This is the first of three Musings in anticipation of that wondrous day.)
The problem with angels is that they defy belief. We’d like to think they exist, but we’re just not sure. Sometimes they’re depicted as celestial, benevolent, cherubic creatures who appear when we need them most to extract us from some self-inflicted earthly jam. Some angels appear to fly out of thin air, bearing a divine message: an annunciation, a warning, a prophecy. Other angels are sword-bearing and vengeful; some, like the ones seen in mid-February, are armed with arrows of love. And some are even bumbling novices, desperately trying to earn their wings—right, Clarence?
Whatever their angelic stereotype, angels are messengers from another realm—intermediaries between the sacred and the profane. They’re all over and above the Christmas story: announcing a most unexpected pregnancy to an incredulous young girl; appearing to those shivering shepherds abiding in their fields, directing them to a stable in a nearby village so they could bear witness to a baby’s birth; warning three itinerant wise men to return to their exotic homelands by an alternate route so a desperate king wouldn’t spoil the story. Angels intentions are almost always good; they move the story along, trying to help us see beyond ourselves so the next chapter can unfold. Come to think of it, without all those angels flying around, our cherished Christmas story wouldn’t amount to much more than a page seven read in The Bethlehem Star: “Innkeeper Claims Family Left Without Paying Bill.” Sad!
Yep; angels defy belief. But for a moment, let’s just suppose that angels really do exist, maybe not as traditionally depicted but in more updated form and attire. No wings, no trumpet fanfare, no halo or radiant light. Let’s even imagine that angels are right here among us: teaching our children, tending our sick, sitting with the lonely, keeping our rivers clean, cooking meals for hungry folk. Or maybe they’re of the guardian angel variety, protecting us from very real dangers both here at home and overseas, or putting out fires, or rescuing stray animals. Maybe they’re artists or musicians or writers who show us new ways to see, to listen, and to think. Maybe they’re Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Hindus who volunteer to work on Christmas Day so their Christian neighbors can celebrate at home with their families. The point is there really are a million quiet angels among us, certainly not invisible, but not always acknowledged or appreciated either…not that they seek or need acknowledgment or thanks.
I like to think I’m surrounded by angels. Some are visible, some are not. Some inspire, some protect, some are just there when I need a friend. Some help me laugh, one or two can move me to tears. And maybe some are still waiting their turn to come to my aid when I stumble, a Clarence to my George Bailey.
Wait…I thought I just heard heard something. Sounded like a bell.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com