Harlem Community Garden

An Angel and A Perfect Memory

I met an angel on a sidewalk in Harlem, NY. She’s a perfect memory of the ideal human experience. Let me explain why I love this woman.

Some of us lick the edges of life. Others live with a sore patch, constantly rubbing the wound. Either keeping it fresh or making it ooze. Most of us keep on like freight trains loaded with debris.

I find freedom from pain in the crystalline moments when action is the distillation of love and courage. I found one on the sidewalk in Harlem lit softly by a summer morning. About ten blocks south of the Metro North station on 125th Street, I saw a woman in a wheelchair, paper on her lap.

I was attracted to the wheelchair, but I was spell-bound by the woman’s face. She had the face of an angel and an aura of contentment. It was smooth, round, open to the sun, and marked by a beautiful smile. She had an aura of quiet confidence.

When I reached her side, she opened her mouth to speak and hesitated. Words surfaced like courses from a dumb-waiter: slow, deliberate, and with lots of space in between. She didn’t seem bothered by her delivery. She was patient and determined to communicate. Most of all, she was brave. Who would chance speaking to strangers when the space between each word was so big? I asked her if she had a stroke, and she said yes.

She was a Jehovah’s Witness, sharing the value of family dinner and ditching your cell phone. Family dinner is practically a religion in our house, but I pretended like the nugget was news to me. As for cell phones, who could disagree? I hugged the angel when we said goodbye and wished I’d given her more of my time. It would have been good for both of us.

Turns out her sister was standing at the end of the block, keeping an eye on things. I spoke to her for a minute. She was the strong big sister to a fragile woman. Her job was to watch over the angel, but it’s the angels who watch over us.