I met an angel on a sidewalk in Harlem, NY. Remembering her I feel the human experience in its ideal form. Let me tell you why. Some of us lick the edges of life. Others live like dogs with a sore patch, constantly licking our wounds and only making them worse. We keep on like freight trains loaded with ailments.
I find freedom from pain in the crystalline moments when action is the distillation of love and courage. I saw one on that sidewalk 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, and open to the sun with a beautiful smile. She was surrounded by a 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.