of Angels

January 10, 2012

So, as it happens, I do believe in Angels. Angels in general, but specifically, Guardian Angels. I can’t say where exactly they fall in the celestial hierarchy, be they Cherub, Seraphim, Archangel or, most likely in my case, Apprentice, but that they do exist and exist among us…I’m sure.

My own contact with a Guardian Angel was, predictably, at my most destitute, most helpless, at my greatest need but also when I was least aware of that need.
Years ago, as a young Man, I lived as many do at that age, by the seat of my pants. I was invincible and in that role, I rarely gave a thought of tomorrow. I didn’t consider my next meal or how I would earn it, or if indeed it would be earned. I cared less where I laid my head at night, on whose pillow or where I woke each morning. Every day was an adventure.
Many of those mornings I woke in the care of the State. Often though, I would shake free the bonds of my stewards and set out (at a quick pace) on my own.
Thumb out, fate, my only guide…come what may.
Be it divine intercession or stupid luck, I emerged from that period virtually unscathed. Looking back though, there were more than a few situations where I was in actual peril but too stupid to realize.
There was that seemingly kindly Man that picked me up hitchhiking and once in the desert of Arizona, (I had thought he said Tustin, but was Tucson bound. Oh well, one place was as good as the next.) thought to reveal himself as a connoisseur of young adolescent boys and that he was particularly aggrieved when denied. This, told right before he pulled off the highway and declared we would be staying the night there, in the middle of the desert, in the back of his pickup, just me, him, his temperamental dog and the knife on his belt.
Nahhh…I believe I’ll just stand out here, in the cold, all night, till you drop me off in the morning…first thing.
And so I did.
I still wonder why he did not force the issue. Perhaps he knew that I would not be easy prey and, as is the nature of predators, not worth the effort or controvertible outcome. Either way, I was lucky to have escaped in once piece, literally.
It was during that same period of my life that I met all three of my Guardian Angels.
I would have thought, as close to harm as I was that night, that were there a need for intercession, that would have qualified. Yet, in retrospect, they came not only when the need greatest but when it would make the greatest impression. Obviously.
Not the first of those,  but perhaps the most lasting impression made, was on a freezing night in Winnemucca, Nevada.
Somehow, in predictable flight, I found myself incongruously in Ketcham, Idaho.
After a short time and wearing my thin welcome, thinner, I was again with thumb out and no destination. It was Winter and having spent most my life in warm climates, I may not have given this small detail significant consideration. I had no money, no food or prospects. Standard operating procedure.
I caught a ride the short distance from outside Ketchum to the small junction of Winnemucca early enough in the day to still see me catch a ride going farther.
Sorry, Son.
When I say it was cold, it was beyond that simple, unworthy description. It was numbing. It was specter like in it’s creeping into my bones and painfully grabbing hold. It was uncontrollable shivering and teeth chattering.
Then…the sun went down.
I have no idea how long I stood outside that closed gas station, peppering what little, dwindling, traffic, with my best puppy dog eyes and outstretched, shaking, uncovered, thumb but at some point I remember becoming worried about my invincibility. Possibly the first time ever.
Then the wind picked up.
After what must have been hours without seeing even a headlight, I repaired to a corner of the building to find what little shelter I could, slinking down against the building, squatting and then…crying.
I distinctly recall being surprised that as I wiped my nose, feeling the hair  crunch and I think I knew then I would never survive the night. In desperation I looked around for the metallic, half box on a pole that would house the gas station pay phone and walking over to it, decided the back of a cop car would be a great improvement, even knowing I stood the chance of being discovered in flight.
IMG_6242I should have guessed. The receiver had been destroyed in some other callers rage. I might have laughed, had it not been for the panic that was beginning to overwhelm me.
Because of the wind, I had not heard the approach, but as I turned to my corner, a pair of headlights turned into the parking lot and stopped.
A bus. A Trailways bus. “Travel at it’s Best!!” Sacramento, emboldened with light and white lettering, on it’s marquee.
So? I had no money. No means.
So I watched as the door hissed open and a Man and Woman exited.
A minute or two and the door stayed open, the bus idling. All that precious heat, escaping.
Without thinking, I approached the open door and saw the driver, at the wheel, writing in a tablet. Without stepping up, from the open door, I asked “How much is a ticket to…Sacramento?” As if I could pay.
Without so much as a glance, not even raising his head, the driver said “I never saw you get on”, and continued scribbling.
Disguised in a grey uniform and cap, my hero. My Guardian Angel.
A moments hesitation and I mounted the steps and slowly walked to the back, expecting at any moment a harsh voice to call me back, retracting my deliverance. None came.
I have since, as an adult, been accommodated luxuriously, staying in fine hotels around the World, with the greatest of comforts, but none…not a single one, can compare with the luxury that I found at the back of that warm, safe, humming, welcoming bus.
No bed has ever been as comfortable as that worn, lumpy extended seat in the rear, nor any sleep as satisfying as was mine on that drive to Sacramento.
Waking in Sacramento and rising to exit, I thought to give my heartfelt thanks but in the night, at one of the few stops along the way, another driver had taken over.
My Guardian Angel and I never spoke but the impression left on me has been lasting and saw to the end of thinking myself invincible.
Tone check.

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