Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light. ~ Dr. Albert Schweitzer
Long ago (I’m old; this is the way most of my stories now begin), I taught in a Catholic school, so on All Saints’ Day, the children and teachers attended Mass. I remember the young priest waving the thick Milwaukee phone book at us during his homily. “This is our book of saints!” He laughed, “We are the saints the world needs.”
This was a different perspective from the one I’d received decades earlier, sitting rigidly in my uniform and hearing about the saints, who were also, usually, martyrs. If they were female, they died gruesomely, protecting their virginity; the males died gruesomely protecting their consciences.
I favored the new perspective.
And, as I’ve matured further in my faith, I’ve come to believe we are not only here to be the saints the world needs, but the angels as well, the messengers of hope and Love. The faith given to me was presented as fairly passive; I prefer an active faith. Animated. Lived. Committing kindness; co-creating miracles, serving as a helpful messenger and looking for angels everywhere. I fail, daily. I try again.
Have you ever felt quite low and at such a point of fragility that a stranger’s smile made you cry? A kind word can feel like the greatest hug ever exchanged. Certainly, this happens when we’re grieving great loss, but it can also happen during times of low-grade but persistent struggle, or just on one of those days when everything goes wrong.
And the person who evoked our relief, comfort, or tears, may have no idea of the effect her kindness had. She didn’t say, “Now, I will be an angel;” she simply chose kindness as a way to interact. But this is precisely when we are angels to each other and co-create miracles, by transforming lives through kindness. Can we do this in isolation and quarantine? You betcha. I have a friend who surprises me with texts saying she loves me and cares about me, and another one who frequently sends hysterical message attachments. My best friend and I affirm each other during video chats, and a friend I adore makes comments on my Facebook posts that are so touching they make me cry.
A recent and wonderful angel encounter began on Tuesday morning, when a sudden and surprising amount of post-dated voicemail messages exploded into my phone like a flash of lightning, and my phone sang out an alert I’d forgotten existed. Delayed and lost voicemail messages have happened before, and offer an unriveting story about our tech service that I will spare you. And I certainly wouldn’t share with our phone company that, this time, the messages arrived more than a month late because one appeared meant to do so, as life unfolded.
I didn’t realize how old the messages were, as I was out in the garden and blinded by the morning sunlight. And, to be honest, for a few weeks I’d been traveling under a darker cloud than my Irish genes normally tolerate. The news of the world, near and far, had gradually been flattening my hope and affect, so I didn’t really care about the sudden appearance of messages. My light was out.
There were two messages from a name I didn’t know, so I half-listened to the second one, from a man who asked me if it were possible I would record In the Time of Pandemic/And the People Stayed Home so he could use it to overlay a piece on a new jazz album.
I didn’t realize this second message was almost a month old, and thinking he’d just called, I sat on the steps and dialed his number without much enthusiasm (a word that means, literally, animated from within sacred energy, which we can allow ourselves to be. Or not). Love’s energy was definitely not my resting place at the time.
The message of the poem went through my head: We can choose our responses to this time of challenges and crises, and those responses can be life-giving and inclusive rather than fearful, angry, and destructive retreats to the patterns that brought us here in the first place.
On Tuesday morning, though, I wasn’t in the mood to hear that another group had used the poem, or wanted to use the poem, possibly in ways it wasn’t intended. But Gabriel Alegria, a gifted musician who leads the The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet, was kind, open, honest, and overlooked my complete ignorance about his stature and artistry. He explained that there was a track on the Sextet’s new album (called Social Distancing, and to be released on November 27) that one of his colleagues thought would benefit from an overlaid poem and suggested mine.
The result was that, over the next few hours, I agreed to license the use of the poem to the band for this purpose, made a voice memo of myself reciting it while I listened to the designated piece on a headset, synched my recitation to the place in the song they wanted it, and sent it on to Gabriel and his producer, who liked it, and that was that. Check in the mail. Plans made to buy Phillip a new set of work boots, and the pups some treats, and leftovers for the garden and groceries.
Then, I looked again at the phone messages and their timing, read about the group on their web page, and realized what a gift I’d been given.
Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is one of my favorite albums. Ever. And if you enjoy Davis; if you appreciate Ry Cooder and the Buena Vista Social Club; Latin jazz, and African rhythms, you will LOVE the The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet, who have been entertaining people all over the world for 15 years. I encourage you to visit their website and listen to their music. And definitely read about their history and unique relationship/interaction with their fans. It’s inspiring.
I received another text from Gabriel: Could I also make a voice memo in Spanish?
Um, no. Not my wheelhouse.
But I thought about the hundreds of comments and notes I’d received about In the Time of Pandemic/And the People Stayed Home from people in South American, Spanish, Basque, and Portuguese cities and villages. Something about the poem’s message and rhythms seemed to resonate with these cultures, and the comments and links to their art, music, film, dance, and classroom projects inspired by the poem have been profoundly touching.
So yes, I owed them at least an attempt at this. Gabriel sent a translation he thought most accurate, and over the next day I slaughtered it about 40 times.
Gabriel sent a recording of his own recitation, and I fumbled some more.
Gabriel sent a recording correcting mine, word by word. (In addition to being a gifted musician and artist, Gabriel is also a gifted and highly-educated Professor, and his patience with me was as joyful as his music.) Once or twice I came close to an accurate recording, only to hear a dog barking, or Murphy meowing in the background when I replayed my masterpiece.
It was humbling for Bright Girl to be the ultimate and unpromising beginner for a change. I really wanted to give up, but I kept thinking of the young woman from a little mountain village who wrote (in perfect English) about sharing a Spanish translation of the In the Time of Pandemic/And the People Stayed Home with her grandmother in quarantine, and how they cried together, hoping for a better world to come. They, and so many others, deserved to hear me trying to thank them for the myriad ways their stories enriched and blessed my life.
Or, at least, they deserved a good giggle over my mispronunciations.
Eventually, I think the producer had received so many recordings of my attempts that he could cut and splice and create something that worked.
And, as with so many connections made throughout my life, I’m the one who’s been blessed again. And, in the way life flows, I have been reminded of the many messages of illumination and connection that have gifted me, especially when most needed. We use different words to describe these, sift through them, hold them up for scrutiny. I use the word Love a lot in my writing. And I believe Love uses the precise symbols that speak to us in order to speak to us more clearly.
Angels are one of the symbols that have always resonated with me. When I was young, I was taught that I was assigned a “guardian angel” at birth. Sounded good to me. I named her Mary Louise, and had quite lovely chats with her every night before I went to sleep. That they appeared one-sided didn’t matter; in my heart, she spoke back to me. How else would Love speak to us but through our imaginations, and art, and through the kindness and love of others? How else but through the messages and miracles–the milagros–of this life that are everywhere, always? Everything happens in relationship.
I have had encounters that came out of nowhere and completely shifted my life’s orientation, and I have had no language to explain them except by referencing the stories I learned when I was young, planted in my heart and growing, always, around the cells and fibers that formed me and my responses; for example, stories that told of visitations from angels, messengers of symbol and import.
Many years ago, assailed by life’s griefs and the consequences of my own choices, I moved through months of darkness. One day, as I drove down the highway, feeling particularly hopeless, I scanned right to see an old-model sports car passing me. The woman driving it was elderly, grinning, and clearly enjoying herself. Her glasses flashed as she turned to me, smiled, waved, and pulled in front of me. Her license plate read: Joy2U.
Now, “joy” is my power word, favorite word, and the word I use to center and meditate, so this did not pass unnoticed. Love uses what it can to move us, startle us, knock us upside the head. It made me laugh; it made me cry; in an instant, I was relieved of the heaviness I’d carried for weeks. And, after I’d moved to the left lane and pulled ahead, looked back and saw that the woman and her car had vanished, I was not surprised, but full of the gratitude and the brilliant warmth that the encounter deserved. She was an angel–symbolically, if not literally–and it doesn’t matter which, because these moments are sacred and soaked through with message, which is what angel means: messenger.
I have had many such moments in my life; we all have. The wonder is that we need more than one; the surprise is that we need to be reminded over and over that all is and will be well, that Love is who we are and what we’re here to do.
And, as I age, I’m not sure if Love is taking pity on my continued obtuseness or just being Love, but let’s look at this week’s gift and note it’s obviousness as an intervention of symbols that spoke to my heart, in my language, and revived me: Messages were delivered by a man whose first name is Gabriel (my favorite archangel), and last name is Alegria (“joy”), who actually plays the trumpet, and invited me to share my gifts, make art, and participate with others in joy. In my prayers and discernment, I always ask Love to speak up and in English; this week, it spoke in Spanish, too. “God comes to us disguised as our life,” wrote Paula D’Arcy.
Angels and miracles everywhere. And we are responsible, through our choices and actions, to be messengers/angels to others and facilitate the miracles. If we are conscious about our power to be kind, to invite, to welcome, to share our gifts and unite with others, we become the angels and miracle-workers the planet needs. Desperately.
I was at a low point when I received Gabriel’s delayed messages. But the timing of their late arrival was perfect. And they spun me into a surprising adventure of co-creation and learning, and offered a reminder that there is an abundance of gifts in the world. My pilot light is re-lit. When we combine our gifts with love and kindness, use them for good, and share them with others…Well, let’s imagine such a world, and see where Love and the angels take us, my friends. Let us see what miracles we may co-create, my angel friends.
Keep your minds, hearts, and eyes open. Create. Be mindful of the messages you bring and those you receive.
And listen to some great music!
Our sweet Mulligan, in his chosen resting resting place during his last weeks in our physical presence. He still sends me messages.
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