One Verified Angel, Paper Airplanes, Books, Stickers, Little Kids and Chili

I managed to ride Big Red, the Harley Road King, four times this week. But I was so busy with work that I lost my concentration. I was supposed to be looking for angels, or Elijah or one of the Lamed Vav that I mentioned in my last post, but instead I was sunk into “everydayness,” (Alltäglichkeit” in Heidegger’s German –those Germans have a word for everything!). I was preoccupied with my daily routine. And I have to confess that I lost my Zen a few times, got angry at a few drivers who were being reckless around my motorcycle. I had a long day on Thursday, when I taught three classes –five and a half hours of class. I missed lunch. By the time I was finished I was knackered, as they say in Ireland. The last thing I was thinking about was angels. I was starving. Then I remembered that it was the night, once a week, that I visit a free meal program and try to help out. Sometimes it means helping serve people, just saying hello to folks, taking the trash out and mopping up. But lately I’ve found that I have another useful skill; though I am amazingly incompetent in most things involving my hands, I can make a great paper airplane (Thanks to the generous patience and tutelage from my cousin, Terrence Seyden). So to keep the kids occupied until the food was ready, a few weeks ago I started making planes. And when the kids asked me for a plane I told them I would give them one if they read me a book. Three weeks ago when I first launched this idea I made over twenty planes. For the youngest kids I’d make them one if they listened to me reading them a book. I quickly renewed my relationship with Dr. Seuss, and to this day, despite everything, I still do not like Green Eggs and Ham. And having attended many a morning breakfast on St Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Georgia, I can assure you that I have tried green eggs and ham, along with green grits and I did not like them, Sam I am.
I had a few kids this time that read “okay,” struggled with a few words, but they got their planes. But then I had two small children who I had to read to. One, tiny cute Latino girl had me read her the story of the little train that could. Her younger brother (maybe 3 years old), and who only spoke Spanish, kept interfering with us by handing me books and rubber tigers and lions and other animals. Now, I was just sitting at one of the tables where everybody eats and I’m still starving, not having had any lunch. After the prayer, the kids always get their food first, which is as it should be. I’m so hungry I’m eyeing theirs covetously! One of the leaders is handing out stickers from a book. “Anyone not get a sticker?” she asks and I raise my hand but she doesn’t see me. The little boy across from me pouts along with me in sympathy and hands me a rubber bear. Eventually, the grownups get their food. It’s delicious! Hotdogs, chili, cole slaw and fried potatoes. One older boy is eyeing my potatoes and I’m squinting at his bowl of chili. We trade.
Later, after the meal I’m asked to watch the kids playing outside while they wait for the van to bring them back home. Paper planes are flying everywhere, a few girls are doing somersaults, and others kids are playing tag (tig). The little boy, who earlier had been giving me the books and the animals comes up to me. He mumbles some words I can’t understand while he affixes his sticker onto my leather vest. It’s Mickey Mouse. “Gracias,” I reply and smile at him. He smiles back. I mumble the few Spanish words I know: “Como se llama?” – which is: “What is your name?” He smiles at me and says: “Angel”. I watch as he runs off to play.

Angels, Saints, Elijah the Prophet, the Lamed Vav, and Big Red, the Harley Road King.

It’s been hot in Georgia (USA) the past month with temperatures up into the high 90’s (35C). It was so hot at times that chickens were laying boiled eggs. So hot that when I went outside to smoke my pipe the tobacco lit itself. So hot that men have been spotted marrying tall women just for the shade. That kind of hot. So it was a relief for most of us these last few days when the temperatures dropped overnight into the 40’s (7C). I almost went out last night to throw a blanket onto Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King. By the way, I added her mileage up and we’ve ridden over 38,000 miles in the last three years. She deserves some tender loving care. I was thinking about this while I was watching a woman I know from a nearby community who was handing out blankets to some of the homeless that sleep rough in the woods in tents. One man said to her: “you’re my angel.” and she responded, “wait till you get to know me better!” I imagine that’s the typical angel response that they teach you in your Introductory Angels class.
Now, in my reckoning, saints are easier to pick out of a line up. Mother Theresa, for most people, was clearly a saint. Dorothy Day was a saint. Some are campaigning that the great baseball legend Roberto Clemente, who died while trying to help others, was a saint. (Babe Ruth was clearly no saint.) Angels, as we know, are harder to identify. They may be doing angelic things, which makes it a darn sight easier, but they can also come like Elijah the prophet, in disguise, what Emerson called, “disguised and discredited angels”. Elijah, in the old stories, was often found using various disguises such as a beggar, a prostitute, a court official, and an Arab. And though he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot (I’m guessing a Harley Road King with the Screamin Eagle upgrades) people still claim to see him today. He’s still wandering around in disguises testing our commitment to showing compassion and hospitality to strangers.
So you might not be an angel, or a saint for that matter but don’t worry, you can still be in the running for being one of the Lamed Vav. “Who are they?” you ask.
In an old Hasidic story it claims that throughout history at any one time there are 36 people upon whom the survival of civilization depends. If not for all of them, the world would come to an end. The 36 are described as humble, modest, righteous, anonymous people who appear when an emergency comes, somehow avert the disaster and then return to anonymity. They don’t have any superpowers, they’re just unassuming people in various disguises who use their innate talents and abilities to help others. They could be a beggar, a teacher, a pastor, a monk, a candlestick maker for all we know. They themselves don’t know that they’re one of the 36. In fact, thinking you’re a Lamed Vav is considered proof that you aren’t. The real Lamed Vav are too humble to believe that they’re one of the 36. They appear when they are needed, do their thing which is really about being who they are and then they disappear. So how do you recognize them? They don’t wear masks like the Lone Ranger. The simple answer is that you don’t. But the fate of the whole world rests on their shoulders so we had better treat them well.
In a reading I found on the Internet, a Rabbi Raymond Zerwin questions how we might act if we went around suspecting that the people we meet might be one of the Lamed Vav? That somehow hidden inside this person are the talents or resources that will be needed someday to save the world. Would it affect how we treat others? Who might these Lamed Vavs be disguised as? What if we might be one of the 36 ourselves? If you don’t think you are then that means you’re still in the running. Just in case we are one of the 36 we should go easy on ourselves, not be so critical of ourselves, and not so critical of others.
So who knows? The people you meet could be disguised and discredited angels, saints, the prophet Elijah or maybe the Lamed Vav. I don’t know about you but the possibility of it makes me want to look at people a little more carefully.

Angels Sighted: Part Three

I managed to get four good rides in this week as I was searching for angels. Riding to work I prefer to avoid the interstates so I often take Highways 53 and 41 up to Dalton. I love the old roads, the blue highways, the aging main thoroughfares for towns before the behemoth, impersonal, concrete monstrosities were built. The old roads have dusty hearts and souls, folks out walking, the occasional tractor, high school football stadiums, roadside dinners, farmers selling fruit and vegetables, old motels resurrected as apartments. The stretches between towns have forests and fields with horses, cows, rickety leaning barns, clapboard houses and shotgun cottages with stacked ricks of firewood, old sofas and Weber grills on the porches. Colors seem brighter, shadows darker, as if they’re being sharpened by the sunlight on the roads and grasses.
On interstates the colors are dull, lifeless, the scenery monotonous. These are industrial strength roads more likely to attract zombies or zombies in training. Besides, no angels are allowed on interstates. They’re prohibited along with pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles. It’s on the signs, for heaven’s sake!
I will confess to being distracted a lot this week. Between marking papers, preparing for classes, trying to get some walks in and editing one of my novels I realized I had bouts where I had sunk back into ‘everydayness’. As we say here in the south, ‘I caught myself’ rushing, getting angry at other drivers and avoiding strangers at times. “Catch yourself on”, an old Ireland expression kept coming to mind to remind me that I was looking for angels. You have to be open, alert and friendly if you’re going to spot them in their various disguises.
One thing I’ve realized is that angels usually show up when someone needs something. An angel in disguise like Elijah might show up in need or we ourselves might need some help. My first angel encounter this week happened when Big Red and I were turning into a shopping center too slowly and we hit a bump and I dropped her. I was fine; thank you for asking. I just hopped off, but Big Red was on her side looking like the beached figurehead from a ship. I was embarrassed, for her and me, and tried to upright her as fast as I could but I was struggling with her 739 pounds (that’s right after she gets out of the shower). A guy came out of nowhere and helped me lift her, then he smiled and took off. It reminded me of how we all want and expect to be the angel, and never the person in need. We all want to be the Good Samaritan and not the wounded man.
Other sighting were scarce. I realized again that if I was hunting for angels I needed to go to where there were people in need. So I headed back to this free meal program again where I knew some folks. I was dressed in my usual off work attire – in torn jeans (fashionable now!) Harley shirt and leather vest. I met a guy outside that was living in his car at a truck stop. We talked awhile. He said he wanted to get one of those motel rooms you could rent for a month. Did I want to split the cost with him? I thanked him but declined the offer. I went inside, said hello to some folks, grabbed a plate of food, sat down and started eating. Some church group had fixed the food. They were happy, generous and friendly, in no way condescending. There was a woman eating across from me that was thanking the coordinator for the food and the take away bags she’d gotten for her and her family. When she got her check, she said, she wanted to come back and cook the meal for everyone at the center. Another woman wanted to get a take-out plate for someone who was back in their tent and too sick to come. There was talk of who was in jail, who had gotten jobs and who was in the hospital. There were jokes and laughter and talking about when they might have their next karaoke night. An older couple were flirting and pampering each other and folks were teasing them about it. I wanted to say to them (the one I knew), jokingly, “Get a room!” when I remembered that they lived in a tent. Sad, poignant but beautiful. Love’s healing glow will angle into any nook or cranny and find us, wherever we are.
I finished my food, thanked the servers from the church and the coordinator and got ready to leave. A server graciously asked me if I wanted some food to take home. I politely declined and thanked her again. I went outside and talked with the smokers for a while. After a spell I said goodbye and took off on Big Red. Along the blue highways I rode the Buddleias, the butterfly bushes,were blooming, the branches shooting bright flowers into the air like bottle rockets. There was the scent of newly mown grass in the air and the fragrance from cut pine trees stacked on chugging timber trucks. I enjoyed the silence and the humming cadence of Big Red’s engine. And I thought about angels.