Written March 8, 2000
There are times I think about angels and saints and spiritual encounters with higher beings, including God. But not too often - or, rather, not consistently. I don't sit down daily and pray for guidance or have a conversation with God to whom I profess my adoration and loyalty. I do pray, "Help me, God" when I'm in pain or trouble. Today was a "Help me, God" kind of day.
During my periodic search of the Internet and reading e-mail, I received a WEB page from a friend. This page dealt with the crucifixion and its content was about 1,000 angels crying in heaven when Jesus was crucified. I scanned the verse and looked at the graphics; Beautiful angels all over the page, blonde, raven-haired, shapely, lovely gowns and of course, wings. Suddenly it occurred to me that my angel experiences have not been with these angels. Especially the angel I met in New York City. She was anything BUT a longhaired, shapely beauty in wonderful clothes adorned with billowing wings. And if I put her on a WEB page, would anyone look at it? Would anyone find any inspiration in viewing her? Probably not. It makes me sad. Her appearance in my life came at a time much like today, a "Help me, God" time.
It was the winter, February, of 1992. I was on a vacation visiting my mother in Pittsburgh. From there, I took the Greyhound to New York City to visit an old friend studying Theology. She was living in a convent and I rented a room at the convent to be near her. Looking back on it now, it was one of the most unlikely places to find me and really quite funny. The convent was a huge old brownstone with so many passages and stairs and elevators, I primarily followed one route in and out so as not to get lost. I wish I could have seen the humor then but I was in a major funk and had been for some time. There were some drastic financial downslides, a divorce, change of residence and changes in my body that I had no control over.
The visit didn't go very well. Perhaps New York City was just too overwhelming for this withdrawn, troubled, mute person that was me at the time. The friend was someone with whom I had shared many happy hours laughing and talking, confiding troubles and celebrating successes. Not so this trip. I was so completely closed off, I couldn't put two sentences together. I exaggerate not. The friendship dissolved after that; not suddenly, but over the next year. Maybe that's the way it was supposed to be. I don't know.
I wanted to leave very early that Friday morning. My friend and I walked to the main street and flagged a taxi, which drove me to Grand Central Station where I would catch the Greyhound bus for Pittsburgh. The driver pulled to the entrance of the station, popped the trunk so I could grab my bag, then took off. I entered the station. The first thing I saw was three or four disheveled, dirty, street men, standing around a trash can. They were each bundled in varying layers and types of clothing and worn blankets. It unnerved me. None of the shops were open and I saw no other travelers like myself.
At that time, you saw a lot of street people wandering New York, standing near ATM kiosks begging for money, sleeping in doorways or just walking, picking through trash for empty cans or discarded food. The first thing my friend cautioned me was to wear a fanny pack instead of carrying a purse. Purse snatching was very common. The second was that after a time in the City, you learned which of the street people were dangerous and how to avoid them. I hadn't been there long enough to acquire that knowledge.
The men at the trashcan were staring at me. I was afraid to look and afraid not to. So I lowered my eyes but kept the vagrants in my peripheral vision while I scanned the Station to find a sign pointing to the bus. I couldn't see anything that would direct me but when I turned my head, I did see several more groups of street people shuffling around behind me. I froze. My feet would not move because of the rapid-fire argument going on in my head. ‘If you go further into the station who knows what will be there!' ‘Don't turn around! Don't try to go out to the street!' 'Assume a confident posture! Don't look afraid!'
Adrenaline pumped through my body and the urge to run was beginning to overtake me. My breathing was shallow and quick. I heard whimpering sounds and realized they were coming from my own constricted throat. Like an animal caught in a trap, my head darted from one group to another, trying to see them all at once, keep track of their movements.
I have never fainted in my life, but at that moment my vision spotted and tunneled and as the tunnel narrowed, I became dizzy. The spots grew and were closing the tunnel, casting me into total darkness. There was a sharp tug on my left arm. I gasped. The shock of this touch brought me back. My head whirled to the left. There was no one there. I felt it again, definite pulling at my sleeve. I looked down at my arm and saw long chocolate-brown fingers gripping my jacket. My eyes followed a path of nubby fingerless gloves, several cuffs layered one upon the other and an arm encased in wool tweed that smelled of mildew. Throughout this exploration I heard a low melodic mumbling. My gaze finally fell upon the head and face attached to the arm. She was saying things to me but my brain hadn't quite cleared and I couldn't understand her. I stared dumbly. She looked at me out of the most incredibly soft golden-brown eyes and continued her litany.
She reached for my grip and I backed off, the spell broken. My hearing and sight returned to full capacity and I saw that the various groups of men were moving away, going back to the recesses of the Station they'd come from. I looked back to this short, dark woman and again she tugged at my arm. "C'mon wid me, honey. I live here and I hep da people lookin' for dere places. I jus' do it fer food - don' drink, no, ne'er touch the stuff - uh-uh - just hep people fer food's all - now ya c'mon dis dangrous place alone - wachu doin' heer by yousef girl! You get yousef in a heap a truble wandrin this place ‘lone - you not ‘lone now tho - I's heer and I's hep ya - you jus' c'mon wid me."
These words went on and on, mesmerizing me. All the fear and anxiety drained from me as I listened to her musical rambling. And I followed her, or rather, she led me, still tugging at my jacket like one would a child. She took me to a flight of marble stairs that led to a sub-level. Just as we started down the steps, I realized I needed cigarettes. I hesitated and she turned and said, "Whas' matta? Wachu need?" I told her and asked if any stands were open. She just continued down the stairs pulling me along behind her.
When we reached the bottom she looked up at me and said, "You bus ain't due for ‘nudder 40 minutes. You go on in da lounge and wait fer da call." She took my sleeve again and led me off to the left to a glassed in room with wood benches. As we rounded the corner to the entry she stopped and without missing a step turned back to where we had just been, still pulling me along with her. I looked over my shoulder to see why she changed her mind and saw that the entire room, benches and floor, was occupied by sleeping homeless people. "Dey be gettin' up soon - da man be comin' to toss ‘em. You wait at you bus. Da bus sometime come early and let you on. Dey nice foke."
She led me to the bus stop. Other passengers were beginning to arrive. As she started to walk away, I reached out and grabbed her sleeve. "Wait a minute. What's your name? And I want to give you some money for your trouble -- you know, for food."
"You need anythin' else? I getchu smokes. Whachu smoke?"
"Oh, right! I almost forgot." I told her my brand and gave her a twenty-dollar bill - the lowest denomination I had in my bag. She took the bill and headed up the stairs. A man in front of me grunted and said, "That's the last you'll see of that money." I shrugged and said, "Oh, well."
The police arrived with billy clubs in hand and the glass room began to empty out. Those still asleep got a sharp thump to the bottom of the foot. As she said, ‘da man toss dem.' I watched the procession and wondered where they would go now, these people that had to sleep on benches in a bus station.
"Doncha worry. Dey be awright."
She was back with my cigarettes, a receipt and my change. She put it all in my hand and turned to go. "Wait! Here, take this!" I said to and held all the change out for her. She took it and thanked me and wished me a good trip. Before she reached the stairs, she turned back and took a few steps toward me.
"You be awright too chil' - you be jes fine."
Tears rolled down my cheeks, the caring I felt from that woman was so powerful. Then she pointed a long finger at me and moved closer and whispered, "donchu be givin' yo money to no strangers, chil'. Ne'er. You lissen ta me." I wiped at my eyes with a tissue. When I looked up she was gone - back to the bowels of Grand Central as suddenly as she had appeared for my need.
That was my Angel. Not shapely and beautiful, no flowing gowns, no wings, not even a halo, but for me she had something far more stunning and profound. I'll never forget her and always cherish the gifts of love and compassion and kindness she passed to me.