Today I got called an angel.

When people call somebody an “angel,” it’s usually because they are commenting on how well-behaved somebody is. It’s mostly used towards children. Maybe two mothers are having a conversation on the line at the grocery store while their adolescent kids dilly-dally around. One of them is jumping up and down, complaining about wanting to go home. The other one, let’s call him Brett, sits quietly and patiently while he waits for his mother to complete her conversation.

The mother of the problem child will notice Brett’s behavior, and say, “Aw, your son is so well-behaved! He’s an angel.”

Of course, in this context, it really means that he is simply doing the right thing. Because that is what angels epitomize — goodness. Typically depicted in all white clothing, with a golden hue and a halo, angels are a universal symbol for benevolence.

But you rarely hear somebody actually refer to somebody as an angel for their other meaning. In Christianity, angels are actually viewed as descendants from Heaven who do God’s work on Earth.

The reason you never hear it in this context is simple. Not many people deserve it. The majority of people are not angelic. If a guy runs into a burning building to save an entire family, then yes, he’s an angel. In every sense. But most people don’t do such things, and thus, for the most part, we all go our lives devoid of ever being given such a compliment.

I myself am the furthest thing from an “angel,” in its religious meaning or any other interpretation. Do I try to do the right thing the majority of the time? Sure. But there are many, many other people in this world who are doing way more good than I ever will. And rightly so. In a million years, I’d never expect to be called an angel, and I’m perfectly 100-percent fine with that.

Except for the fact that I was called one today.

On May 9, I was sincerely, genuinely and wholeheartedly likened to an angel. And I must say  — with equally as much sincerity — that  it was probably the nicest compliment I have ever, and will ever, receive.

Let’s rewind the calendar back to three months ago to where it all began.

Last February, In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, I was at work, trying to think of a story to work on. With the upcoming “holiday,” it occurred to me that it might be a great idea to write a Valentine’s Day feature story. And what better than a feature story about an elderly couple? People love that stuff, right? Romance, love, happily ever after, all that crap.

So I dialed a couple of senior living homes in the area, and asked if they’d be interested in me coming down and interviewing one of their elderly couples. It’s a win-win — I get my story, they got the positive press, and the couple gets to be featured in the newspaper. Win-win-win, you could even call it.

I hear back from one of the homes the following day, saying that they would be interested, and they even have a couple picked out for me. I later learned that, unfortunately, since such homes exist only for those who are at the end of their lives, that not many couples really stay together in these facilities, since one of them eventually dies. But they found one for me nonetheless.

I sit down with the couple for an hour, and they are sweet, kind and loving people. I really felt like I got to know them in the hourlong conversation. They had been married 65 years, and were both about 90. The wife was still effervescent, and looked at least 15 years younger than she really was. The husband, however, was clearly in ill-health. He was suffering from dementia, and really didn’t speak much during the interview. But he was jolly all of the same. He also did manage to say a few loving words about his wife.

Following our chat, I took a picture of them, and then asked if they had an older picture, which I thought could juxtapose nicely with the one I just took. Not only did they give me one, but the wife reached right onto her mantelpiece and gave me a huge framed portrait of their actual wedding photo from 1947. Shocked, I said that I should take a different photo — one that carried less importance — but she insisted. I told her I’d get it scanned in the office, and bring it back immediately. She said she trusted me. I took that to heart.

It was a disgustingly snowy day, so I guarded the photo with my life, and went back to my office. I got it scanned, gathered my notes, and proceeded to write a lengthy story about the couple which I ended up putting on the front page of the newspaper. On the way home that day, I dropped it off back at their senior home, and that was the last interaction I had with the couple.

By the way, you can view that story here, if you’d like.

About one month later, I received a handwritten letter in my office mailbox. It was from one of the couple’s four daughters, who wrote me from Arizona to personally thank me for the story I wrote, and telling me how beautiful she found it. I was really touched, and I sent her an email back to tell her so. In my industry, it’s not often you get a thank you following a story, so it really did mean a lot. I even asked her if I could publish it as a Letter to the Editor, and she obliged.

So that was that. I figured that put a capper on that story, and I’d probably live my life devoid of any other interaction with this family.

That was, until today, when I received yet another email from that same daughter.

It read:

Dave,

With a heavy heart I wanted to let your know that my dad recently passed away on April 23.  You wrote such a beautiful article about them for Valentine’s Day. They might have mentioned that my dad was in a very bad car accident about ten years ago and received serious head injuries.  This accident left him with ongoing decline in health over the last ten years, of which, demencia finally took its toll.  It was shortly after your interview and beautiful publication in the paper that my dad had a slight stroke, and this ultimately triggered the demencia which ended his life.

Your article was displayed as a celebration of his life and love for family.  This testament of his undying love for my mom was the last time he was able to express his feelings for her before the dementia set in and took away the man my mother knew.  Life works in a mysterious way and I believe that this article you wrote was meant for my dad to let my mom know that he will love her forever.  Dave, if I were to believe in angels, you are one that was sent as a messenger to deliver this message of love so that my mom has comfort from the words spoken by my dad.  As I mentioned in my first note, I could hear my dad saying the words that you wrote in your article…..so can my mom.

You can really only imagine my reaction upon reading that. It was the first thing in the morning, and this woman had just likened me to an angel from Heaven.

But it really wasn’t even that specific compliment that made me feel good, but knowing that I offered some comfort to this family during what must be one of the most difficult times in their lives. When I do my job, it’s to make people happy. I like featuring people in my newspaper who otherwise never would receive such an opportunity. But I never thought that I had the ability to actually provide somebody some relief during a trying time when they otherwise may never have gotten it.

This woman truly thinks that some divine intervention brought me to her family. I’m not one to really believe in that stuff, but whatever it was that made this come to fruition, I’m pretty glad it did.

Indeed, the world does work in very mysterious ways sometimes.

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