I didn’t follow any of my usual routes that morning when I went for my daily walk. Instead, for no particular reason, I headed in the opposite direction and circled through a less familiar neighborhood.
On my way back, I approached a house where an elderly man was standing out in the front yard. I said, “Good morning.”
He returned my greeting, then added almost brusquely, “Come here. I want to show you something.”
Now, following strange men into their back yards isn’t something a wise woman, alone in a neighborhood not her own, probably ought to do. But the man was elderly, there was nothing frightening in his manner, and whatever he wanted to show me seemed important. I went.
When we reached the back yard, he gestured and said, “See that tree?”
Behind the house stood a lovely old elm. The wide, low fork where its trunk divided into two spreading branches seemed just made to climb into. One sturdy branch was worn smooth, evidence that a swing had hung there for a long, long time. But the tree was badly damaged. A jagged split through the trunk exposed a long gash of raw wood, and the branch where children had swung drooped so low that the end of it brushed the grass.
“It was that wind storm the other night,” the man told me. “I’m just waiting for the tree guys to come take it down.”
He went on to tell me, in a few brief sentences, about the tree. How he and his wife had planted it almost 50 years ago when they bought the house. How it had grown to shade the back yard. How the kids had climbed it and swung from its branches and built tree houses in it. How the grandchildren had done the same. And how, ever since his wife had died last year, things just weren’t the same.
I listened, and I nodded, and I said almost nothing in response. There was nothing I needed to say. This man, in showing me his damaged tree, was expressing his love for his family and his grief over his losses. He needed a listener that morning—and I came along just at the right time, before the tree guys got there with their saws and chippers.
Maybe my choice of an unaccustomed route that morning was a coincidence. Maybe not. It didn’t really matter. What did matter was that he needed someone to talk to and that I was there to be that someone. I felt deeply honored to be trusted with that role.
I don’t know whether I believe in celestial angels as messengers or agents of God. I am sure I believe in earthly angels. We all can be angels for one another, sometimes in ways we don’t understand or even notice. I believe my listening presence that morning was a gift to this man. I know for sure that his sharing was a gift to me.
I just have one question. Which of us, on that particular morning, was the angel?
One wonders about this angel business….I have had a couple startling, almost hair-raising moments, when I was not sure that I hadn’t been used in some way I didn’t understand. Maybe we don’t have to understand, maybe we just have to serve the purpose, even if it is beyond us to know why.