17 Facts About Angels

(published 2010 in Irreantum)

 

 

1. Angels welcome us when we leave this life.

            Frank walked around the chapel comforting his family, aware yet unaware that they were mourning him, that he was no longer with them. He told old jokes to old friends and reached out to wipe his beloved’s tears, his hand passing through her cheek just as his punch lines had passed through the air unheeded, unheard, unpresent.

      Like most of the newly dead, Frank saw only those he was leaving; his eyes slid off Manuel’s glory just as they had when inhibited by mortality. Frank was asking a niece about her new baby when a sudden violent sneeze, born of nothing more than a remembered lifetime of allergies, flashed him to the home he and his wife had shared for thirty-four years. Another vestigial sneeze flung him to the baseball field where Frank had coached six of his seven sons to league championships. Manuel bent the earth, took a step, and joined him there.

      Frank stared at the sky, rapt, seeing for the first time the full spectrum of sunlight. “It’s beautiful.”

      Manuel reached out and turned the beams. “It is.”

2. Angels care for the  least of these.

The streets in this city are as dirty and diseased as the streets of Constantinople had been when Servius hid in their shadows as a starving child. One of the last members of a forgotten branch of the original cult of Christianity, he grew up fighting rats for scraps and hiding from the men in their long red robes who made children disappear.[1]  

And so, here, now, again, Servius patrols the streets, no longer afraid, whispering peace through the veil to the lone and starving children, blowing away the biting insects in the summer and buttressing the leeward sides of buildings during the rainy season. He waves his hand and a bruised and underripe mango falls from a merchant’s stand and rolls into the shadows to a ragged young girl.  He smiles as she sinks her tiny teeth into its flesh, enjoying life as only those with very little can. And when she dies, innocent and pure, he will be there to greet her and receive her smile, for she, and each of them, will recognize his face, his voice, his love. He is the only one they trust to take them home.

 

3. Those we love still look down upon us.

Will and Parley had grown up Texan, just one small town apart from each other, and had met once on the high school gridiron when Will sacked Parley for a loss of six yards. They had entered basic training three weeks apart and died in the same war, the same hour, two dozen miles apart. Since then, both their sisters had married the same cheating, good-for-nothing bigamist who kept them in separate cities. He was the father of their nine children.[2] When those wives finally met in a long check-out line at the local Walmart,[3] they found it hilarious that their oldest four were both coincidentally named Carrie, Charles, Benny and Ted.[4] They exchanged numbers, thinking it would be amusing to get their families together, and soon began to talk on the phone, cracking jokes about their salesman “husbands” and visiting each other’s homes once or twice a month. Six months later, at the county fair, the two women stood together by the rabbit cage, doling out dimes to their children. That’s when he showed up, happily calling one by name, and then, seeing the other, running away.

Will and Parley watched and wished they had been ordained to the priesthood of justice.

Their sisters did not speak to one another for three years, but who else could understand what they had been through? And so, at last, the one picked up her telephone, and the other cried to hear her voice.

Twenty-five years later—having shared a tornado, a religious conversion, and hundreds of glasses of lemonade—they sat in the temple twice each week, holding hands. And here their brothers could help. Corralling redeemed souls to witness their work being done, helping veil workers with pronunciation—that sort of thing. And while these actions sometimes seemed trivial, Will and Parley had learned, as angels, from their sisters, to look forward, believe, serve, hope, do.

 

4. The priorities of angels differ from our own.

Late. Always late. Because, he said, she can never decide which dress to wear. Or rather, she counterclaimed, because he can’t drive a decent speed whenever it sprinkles.[5]

Then a figure, all in white, appeared out of the rain, standing calmly in the middle of the road. Larry yanked the wheel to the left, Marilyn’s sudden scream interrupted by their sedan’s impact into an old oak.

After the car bounced off a second tree and spun back onto the road, blocking both lanes, the wheels unable to turn, they sat silently for a moment, the radio dead, their headlights shining onto the enemy trees, airbags relaxed on their laps. Their injuries were neither slight nor serious, and as soon as they called 911, their complaints returned and broadened.[6]         

Two hours passed and cars piled up behind them, but neither ambulance nor tow truck arrived. The other drivers exited their vehicles and walked past Larry and Marilyn and their mangled car to stand a few feet past Larry’s door, the rain pelting their half-invisible forms as they stared into the darkness.

Angry they missed dinner, angry he wouldn’t get to meet his boss’s new father-in-law—angry to be stuck with no one but his wife—Larry forced his door open and stumbled into the void to join the other drivers, to see what they saw.

He caught himself at the edge, next to a young man in a worn leather coat. At their feet lay a sudden, new ravine, filled with rushing waters. Born of the rainstorm, it cut across the highway, inviting passersby to fall in and be swept away. Larry frowned and looked at his neighbors, water pouring off their noses. Which of them, he wondered, was worth the life of his Lexus?

 

5. Angels retain their personalities.

Dorrie was no fool. She knew what all the new toys being sent to her room meant: Mommy was dying. The more people told her everything was fine, the more time she spent under her bed crying and fitfully sleeping—leaving her awake for long hours at night in the darkness, listening to Mommy’s raspy breath. And so it was that Dorrie was awake and alone with scrapings of air when the sound faded and she saw a light under her door. She crawled out from under her bed and crept down the hallway, pushed open the door to Mommy’s sickroom and entered.

“Hello, Dorothy.”

“Hi, Gramma.”

Gramma was holding Mommy’s head in her lap and stroking her brow.

“Is she dead?”

“No, honey. She’s alive.”

Dorrie bit her lip, gnawing the same raw spot she always did. “When’s she going to die?”

“Not today. Not for a long time.”

“Don’t lie.”

Gramma smiled but it felt sad. “I’m not. She’s going to get better.”

“No, she’s not.”

Gramma looked at Dorrie and shook her head. “No, honey. The doctors are wrong. Someday, when you’re a mommy, your mommy will still be here with you.”

Dorrie looked at Mommy’s face and gnawed. If Gramma said it . . . .[7]

“Okay.”

“That’s a good girl. Why don’t you get back to bed.”

“Okay.”

“And Dorothy?”

Dorrie turned back.

“Get under the covers tonight, okay?”

“Okay, Gramma.”

Back in the hallway, she bumped into her father, who was carrying the platter of pills, his eyes half closed.

“Oh! Dorrie. What are you doing up?”

“Nothing.”

“Well, go back to bed.”

“Okay.”

But she didn’t move and her father stood there watching her.

“What is it?”

“Mommy’s going to get better.”

He turned his face away from her. “Oh, Dorrie—”

“No! It’s true! Gramma told me!”

He paused. “What?”

“Gramma told me. She held Mommy’s head and told me she would get all better and help me when I’m a mommy someday.”

Her father stood silent, still, until he dropped the drugs, fell to his knees, and held his daughter and wept.

“I believe you, I believe you.”

            She patted his back and kissed the top of his head. “I don’t lie.”[8]

 

6. Angels are given assignments that add to their own happiness.

Halua has been at sea for centuries. He spends most of his time in meditation, surrounded by waters emptied of ships—at minimum a week’s sail from any land.[9] The oceangoing mortals Halua meets are generally souls like his, happier alone, and thus more willing to accept his specific help. And while he is often assigned urgent and righteous tasks on land, he loves it best when he is sent back to the sea, to watch and to wait, for the next lonely soul headed his way, over the wandering gray rolls of the mindful sea.

 

7. Angels wish for us to share their eternal perspective.

At age sixteen Jeffrey Snider rebelled against the teachings of his parents, smoking two cigarettes, taking one sip of beer and (the habit that stuck) masturbating.

The angel watching over him was named, of all things, Salma.[10] She was charged with helping him survive his bad driving and general teenage stupidity so he could accomplish a great and important work in his mid-twenties. No longer embodied herself, having died over fifteen centuries before, Salma saw only the symbolism of Jeffrey’s habit and not its hormonal impetus.

One Saturday night, as Jeffrey indulged his habit in the shower, Salma reached out and touched his mind with her hand, and he slowed and stopped and rinsed and stepped out of the shower.  But his adolescent penis, still powered by urgency and angst, reacted against the terry cloth as he dried himself. As Jerry considered the mess he had made, he thought of worlds without number, seed greater than the sands of the sea.

 

8. Their perspective on our needs may have more clarity than our own.

The young mother was tired and worn and sometimes lost sight of her love for her children, but Jane knew her heart. The young mother sacrificed her sleep and her meals and her beauty, and her children looked as if they had stolen these things directly from her. Their black eyes shone and their smiles were wide and their blond hair seemed an explosion of happiness, and they laughed and chased, breaking the few nice things left, as their mother watched them and wondered why she had ever had them.

And as she sits in a neighbor’s abandoned armchair, her fingers not quite reaching the ground, her hair collapsed into wet streaks down her face, and her body unable to imagine ever standing again—then Jane will rest her ethereal hands upon this young mother, will rest her ethereal check upon her sweaty crown, will whisper that this too shall pass and be remembered with joy. And the mother will know it to be so.

 

9. Angels may apply their bodies to the same tasks to which we apply our own.

Timmy felt young at the door of this house. Anyone could tell its paint was older than he was. But he knocked and finally there were footsteps and the door opened. In the crack appeared first a shadow, then a pocked nose, then that nose’s face, and the face said, “Ugck?” or something much like that.[11]

“Sir—Brother Roberts?—I’m here to, for, to collect—to get your fast offering?”

“Whunk?”

“For the Church? For poor people?”

“Marmn?”

“Yes, sir.”

Brother Roberts’s face did not change, but it moved back into shadow and the door began to close, but did not finish. The face appeared again and scowled at Timmy but the door failed to shut again. Brother Roberts looked through the four-inch gap from his side and Timmy looked through it from his side. Brother Roberts slammed the door and it caught again--four inches from the jamb--the width of a foot. The old man looked at Timmy, and Timmy swallowed and squared his shoulders, proud he had not cried.

“Fer . . . thpr?”

“Yes, sir.”

Brother Roberts gave a hundred dollars that month. And twenty every month for the next six years, until his heart gave instead. And at Brother Roberts’s funeral, newly ordained elder Timothy Jones stood at the podium in the chapel of the Carlsburg First Ward and spoke of the Miracle of the Stuck Door--and of the joy he and Brother Roberts had shared only last month as they received their endowments together, sharing a hug in a beautiful room, a young man and an old, in the presence of their God. And their angel.

 

10. Angels value the mortal life.

The night was filled with tracer bullets and PFC Regan[12] could feel impacts behind the mud wall he leaned against. Somehow alone on this desert night, he held his breath and considered the possibility that this could be the night he died.

A moment of silence, then the bullets redirected to the west. He froze, then a blast of adrenaline hit him like a linebacker, lifted him to his feet and threw him across the open space towards the hill forty feet away.[13] He was just over the rise when the bullets returned, flying first feet, then yards, then far above his head as he rushed down the hill and back towards safety, exhausted, laughing, amazed, grateful, alive.

 

11. Angels are given powers we do not understand.

Lightning arced from the ground three hundred feet into the sky, through Osver’s feet and out his eyes and hair and fingers into the clouds, filling them with white and blue fire. While the rain may fall upon the just and unjust alike, sometimes one watershed receives more than another, and sometimes the faith of one family will be rewarded.

Grasping the bolts passing through his palms, Osver commanded the attached cloud and pulled it to him, praising God and his mercy as the cloud fed the dirt, responding to one worthy family’s simple hope.[14]

 

12. Angels are given to know who we are.

The man pushed back into his chair, its high, faux-leather arms preventing him from rolling off the chair and running away—all he could do was push into the patched leather.[15]

“Who—who are you?”

“My name is Nathaniel.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’ve a message for you.”

“Me? But—but—I. How. Can—shall we—shall we shake hands?”

“I cannot.”

“Oh. Oh. Okay.” He relaxed and looked at the angel. His features were without color or form, yet he felt he recognized him. “How is it—how is it you are so bright? Yet you’re not, I don’t know, white.”

“You’re not seeing me with your mortal eyes. The veil has been parted. I am white ‘only in the sense / that I am all colors. / But few of these colors / have you seen before.’”

The angel paused long enough for him to recognize the lines. “‘Midi-chlorians for Angels.’”[16]

“‘The Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.’”[17]

The man visibly relaxed. Having an angel quote his own poetry was calming. As was hearing a familiar scripture, one he wished to use as an epigraph someday. “What is your message?”

“You are to prepare yourself. God has need of your voice.”

“My voice?”

“You are unwilling to recognize the greatness God has placed in you.”

“I am?”

“You are willfully unskilled. God has given you the full measure of five talents. What will you do with them?”

“Much is given . . . ?”

“And much will be required. Prepare.”

“Prepare.”

And then he was alone.

He took his notebook from the floor, tore out the twelve-page palindrome that almost made sense, and wondered at the newly baptized whiteness of the remaining pages before him.

 

13. Angels understand pain.

The toddler screamed and cried and would not be comforted, his spirit too freshly naked to be free of the pain that broke his body. Edna held him, wept with him. She rocked his struggling spirit as, together, they watched his parents sitting on the curb, pressed against each other, their child’s bloodied Dodgers cap grasped by both, their fingers touching. The child held out his arms and cried, and Edna walked nearer that he might see their faces.

Then all four turned away as his small, covered shell was lifted into an ambulance and taken away.[18]

 

14. Angels cannot force us to be healed.

The dead flung themselves about the subway tunnel, their shrieks inaudible to the corpse-sniffing dogs[19] or their handlers or the men carrying gurney after gurney through the rubble. But to the unseen rescuers and comforters waiting to collect these souls, the screams caused a pain untempered by time or space, as personal as if it were their own. But they are patient, and so they stand and wait, ethereal arms open, understanding what it is to die suddenly and without warning—empathetic with both the suffering and their Savior.

 

15. They are ready when we are.

Mary wept.

Six weeks later and she could still feel his hands on her—on her breast, at her throat. She could still feel the tree pressed into her back when his kisses had turned angry and dangerous. And now she had missed her period and sat in her parents’ bathroom at the back of the house, holding three bottles: h er mother’s antidepressants, her father’s sleeping pills, and the ancient child’s pain pills she had received when recovering from emergency surgery after her bike accident in the second grade. There were more to choose from, but these seemed the friendliest—the most symmetrical. The right number and she could lose the baby. Too many and—

What Mary didn’t see was the darkness encircling her. The voices whispering to her mind how much better it would be to take just one more than was strictly necessary. Too few, after all, and her problems would grow only more intense with everyone watching her and knowing. Too many? What is too many? Too many and her problems would be over. Simply over. And she would be at peace, peace, peace. All this would be forgotten. Nothing would matter anymore. Nothing. She would be nothing. And no one would remember. No one.

Mary asked herself which was worse: her parents finding her dead, or pregnant. And she leaned over her knees and wept, dark tear-lines slipping down her jeans. The bottles in her hands shook as sobs wracked her body, their plastic wind chime friendliness asking her what was wrong, what was wrong, no need for anything to be wrong.

He hadn’t loved her. How could he? How could anyone. No one would, not now, not ever. And the darkness tightened upon her, whispering. Its voices so reasonable. So certain. So . . . correct.

“Oh, God,” she said, there being no one else, “oh please oh God oh please.”

And though she could not see it, a light entered the room. And a sword. A swath through the room. The darkness dissolved, crying in anger and fear and frustration, and with the light came a warmth like hands, a holy touch, removing the residues from her breast, her throat, and Mary wept, this time in peace, as she dropped the pills to the floor, their voices lost in the shag bathmat upon the floor.

 

16. Angels appreciate the simple things.

Marla had spent the past thirty years growing her garden and so she was less surprised than gratified when she felt her heart tighten and her arms weaken, and she fell into her black mud, its rich color the result of decades of work.[20] She smiled as she died.

“You’ve a beautiful garden.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ve often rested here.”

“You have!”

“Yes.” He spread his arms, taking in all now growing and the essence of those that had grown before, to the first iceberg rose in the northeast corner, gone now these ten years. “I’ve never missed the blooming of your hydrangea. Thank you.”

And he took her to the arms of her Father and her Mother, who are gardeners too.

 

17. Angels sing.                                                                                                                     

As the family knelt and prayed upon their worn wooden floor,[21] asking to know if it were true, for a moment they thought they heard heavenly hosts singing of glory and praising their God.

When the prayer was over and they returned to the couch, nothing needed to be said. They knew. They all knew. They sat silently, looked into each other’s faces, into each other’s matching eyes, and knew.

 



[1] The taken children did not share a single fate. Some became household slaves, living lives that seemed to them luxurious. Some were sold to brothels or to ships and learned the world was worse than even their miserable experiences had suggested.

 

[2] And fourteen bastard children in three additional states: Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado.

[3] At this time it was still spelled “Wal-Mart” and had only recently begun its march out of Arkansas. So recently that the small businesses in their respective towns were still in business.

[4] This was the birth order of Will’s sister’s children. Parley’s sister’s were ordered Charles, Bennie, Ted and Carrie. She also had given birth to the ninth child, Betty, short for Elizabeth.

[5] It wasn’t sprinkling. They’d received two inches in the last ninety minutes and would get that much again in the next thirty.

[6] Complaints about (among other things) not replacing the Lincoln with a Mercedes like she wanted, replacing the Lincoln with the Lexus as he had wanted, taking the old two-lane highway instead of paying the toll, their daughter’s college tuition, the tree they’d hit, trees in general, not buying special tires for the rain, the color of their new kitchen set, why their GE stock had dropped an eighth of a point that day, and whether or not anyone was actually standing in the road.

[7] Dorrie’s reasoning here is accurate. Gramma (Elizabeth Virtue Helm Campbell) had always been careful to be truthful and accurate; these traits have remained with her and shall remain with her. To paraphrase the prophet, this is what the word restoration meaneth.

[8] This was, of course, a lie. She was five years old at the time.

[9] Though he had never been there when alive, his absolute favorite point has become two and one-half leagues south-southeast of the Pacific’s so-called “pole of inaccessibility” (48°52.6S 123°23.6W).

[10] I say “of all things” because images of Salma Hayek in a sex scene Jeffrey had found online featured regularly and prominently in his fantasies.

[11] / ɯʔx/, to be precise.

[12] b. 1991 in Lakewood, Cuyahoga, Ohio, United States

[13] The angel Fahmi who executed this task was careful not to injure him. He had dislocated the shoulder of a local man earlier that day while saving him from, in fact, PFC Regan, whose job it had been to kill him. During this period Fahmi would sometimes save dozens of soldiers a day. And he watched many more than that die. He had once been a soldier himself, but now he understands something new about war—something that can only be articulated with the language of God.

[14] God is great, but God is mysterious. This family had been praying in faith for sufficient rain for six years and every year their crops perished from want. This year they would battle a rain-borne fungal infection and finally be forced to sell their farm—the last family-owned farm in the county—to Monsanto. But those final prayer-borne rains made that separation less painful. Free of the stress of trying to inherit the land, the family’s oldest son will get a PhD in agricultural science and take a position in an African university helping to develop drought-resistant variants of cassava and sorghum. His work will ultimately save upwards of 25,000 lives a year.

[15] This is not a mistake. The arms were upholstered in a fake red leather and the body in an Italian black leather. The effect was about what you might expect.

[16] It may be worth mentioning that at this point in his career, all his titles were similarly awful.

[17] 2 Nephi 31:3

[18] The death of a child is not initially easier for the child than its parents. Even in paradise—blessed with caretakers who always know the best thing to say (even when that thing is nothing)—even then, they miss their mothers and their fathers, and they long to see them again. Children feel intensely, whether alive or dead, and they love completely. And even when comfort comes, they do not forget.

[19] The notion that dogs can sense the spirits of the dead is simply incorrect. Dogs can, however, sense the resurrected when the humidity is high enough.

[20] Or, in worm hours, millennia.

[21] This should not be interpreted to mean this family (two adults, two teenagers) was compelled to be humble. In fact, they took a perverse pride in their home’s crummy original floor. And how their six thousand-dollar couch scraped that floor when they dragged it through the front door.