This is the (approximate) text of a talk I gave at Minneapolis Friends Meeting on November 19, 2006
When I was 18 years old, I very nearly died.
I went to the emergency room because I’d been getting incredibly intense headaches – so intense the pain was immobilizing. It was quickly discovered that my blood count was very low. I had been bleeding internally for some time without realizing it. The doctors decided to keep me in the hospital overnight and run some tests and x-rays the next day.
I don’t think I slept at all that night. It’s hard to sleep in a hospital – especially when you’re scared. But there was a nurse on the night shift who took kind of a motherly interest in me. She told me that I reminded her of her own son who was about the same age. Over the next eight hours, whenever she wasn’t busy with something else she would come back to my room and talk with me. Our quiet conversations, and her calm, reassuring manner helped me get through that long, long night.
The following afternoon, my condition suddenly became critical, and I was rushed into emergency surgery. It saved my life.
Afterwards, as I was coming back to consciousness in the intensive care unit, someone told me “You have a friend here to see you.”
It was that nurse. The one who had helped me through that long night. I had a tube down my throat and was unable to speak, but I grasped her hand and held tightly.
That was more than thirty years ago. I no longer remember that nurse’s name, her face, or what she said to me, but I clearly remember the gratitude and relief that flooded over me when I saw she was there and I wasn’t alone.
I believe in angels. Not the kind with halos and feathery wings. I’m talking about human angels. We can be angels for one another.
A few years ago I went through a divorce, a long and often painful process. I remember one particularly bad day when I was feeling so wrapped up in my troubles that I found it impossible to concentrate on my work. I went out for a walk, hoping to clear my head. Of course, my troubles came with me. But on my walk I happened to encounter a woman I recognized from the neighborhood. Kate and I were just casual acquaintances, but she gave me a friendly hello and asked how I was. Without going into any detail, I told her I was going through a really tough time with the divorce. She said a few words, expressing warmth and genuine compassion for me. And then we each went on our ways. But that brief encounter was enough to lift my spirits and completely turn my day around.
Kate is an ordinary person; I’m sure she had other things on her mind and maybe problems of her own. But she was an angel for me that day. She probably never knew what an effect our interaction had on me.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been an angel for anyone else. I hope so, but I probably wouldn’t know.
I talk about these things partly because I feel it’s something I’m not very good at. I spend much of my time in my own little world, focused on whatever I’m trying to get done at the moment. I might not notice if someone near me is in need. Or I might notice but feel there’s nothing I can do, or that I don’t have enough time.
I’d like to be more open to these opportunities to be an angel for someone. And to opportunities to let someone else be an angel for me.
I want to close with a poem I came across recently.
By Elizabeth Oppenheimer
In all things, leave a space for us.
Let the hole in your doughnuts
be like the margins on your page.
Let the keyhole in your door
be like the pupil in your eye.
In all things leave a space for us
like the opening in your mending heart.
And we will have room enough in your life
to poke through and fill the space
with our angel prayer
and a quiet miracle.