I collect angels, and believe in them. Not the winged ones with blond curly locks—the wings are symbolic, as is blonde hair, one assumes. The word “angel” means “messenger” or one sent from the throne of God. I’ve never seen one or felt one near. But I believe in them because sometimes when I need a reminder that I’m remembered, one will speak to me or leave a gift at my door.
On a day last week when the only cheerful option was a quick trip to the local thrift store, I found a bit of odd art. There is a head with a jester’s cap, wings made of flags or ties, disconnected torso and legs, and a hand holding a string with things attached. Hard to describe. This is very similar at Story People (available for $25 and $35); mine is weirder and not so clearly an angel. But for $2.00, it’s thrilling.
The text beside my new angel says this: “In my dream, the angel shrugged and said, ‘If we fail this time it will be a failure of imagination.’ And then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.” My artist (MW ’05) has added a line not in Story People’s version: “We must decorate our own souls.” It didn’t make much sense. Another surprise when I looked on the back—an entire poem in which that line appears and does make sense.
Here’s the problem, though. The poem is interesting and uplifting, but when googled, it yields a mystery. The one pasted on my little particle board backing is called “After A While” by Veronica Shoffstal. You can read it here. There are other similar poems with the same name, but I lost count when four different poets were named, plus Anonymous. The most compelling argument, however, was that the real poet was the famous Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges. This site contains Shoffstal’s claim, the Borges in English, an explanation of the Spanish version, and the second half which elaborates the theme of the first half. The “celebrity life coach” whose site it is reads the poem, but I don’t recommend that experience. Overall, this research became a bit overwhelming.
But on I went. A beautiful photo of Half Dome with a buck in the foreground appeared on Facebook. Asking for permission to use it led to two outcomes. First, the picture makes Half Dome glow, as if at dawn which would have nicely fit the “Comes the Dawn” title of the poem. But no: The phenomenon can only occur at sunset, I was told. I countered with what I believed to be true—in a photograph it’s not possible to tell dawn from sunset, unless you do know the location specifically. Of course, I was wrong. It’s a myth that you can’t tell because you can with training. This site gives a brief exploration; this one, a much longer, in-depth explanation with stunning photos.
Second, I learned that there is a set of cables to help you climb Half Dome. (I say “you” because it won’t ever be “me.”) I was reminded that my two younger sons had some years ago had made the ascent and that these days you can only make the climb with an almost-impossible-to-get permit. (These days we also hear of people dying when taking selfies in such places, so don’t do that and frighten your mothers, please.) The point of the cables is assistance. In today’s photo, you can barely see them going up the middle of the mountain, but they are there. I then learned the story of a father who gave us today’s title. He wanted to take his 12-year-old daughter on the Half Dome hike. She was afraid. He didn’t go into long explanations of why it was doable or safe or easy or important to conquer fear. He simply said, “Just touch the cable.”
So on one hand we have the poem below that has all sorts of things to remember. It’s written as if these are the things we also already know. I am glad to know the poem, even with its mysteries. But what is particularly interesting is the title “Comes the Dawn.” It reminds me of a verse from Psalm 30: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” David struggled a good bit, and this psalm reminds us of the struggle and his thanks-giving.
On the other hand, we have a simple admonition that the only action we need is to try, that the action of touching becomes trusting.
Back to the angels. Last week had its struggles for me. Without saying why, I can share that the picture and the poem were great reminders that I was remembered. That angel was unseen, unknown. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. The other angel was a woman in the outside fabric section of JoAnn’s. I was struggling (literally) with a bolt of fabric–60 inches wide and heavy canvas– when she asked me if I needed help. Of course, I said, “Oh no, thank you, I’ve got it.” She was a wise angel, came over anyway, and said, “Sometimes we all need another pair of hands.” I did thank her, but didn’t think to tell her she was an angel. Maybe she already knew.
Comes the Dawn
After a while
you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand
and chaining a soul.
And you learn
that love doesn’t mean leaning,
and company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that
kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises.
And you begin to accept defeats
with your head up and your eyes open
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
that you really are strong,
and you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
with every goodbye you learn.