The Angel in Front of Me

Enervated due to chemotherapy treatments, she was chagrined to find a long line at the bank. It was the last thing she needed–or so she thought.

By Linda Winkler, Wellington, Colorado

As appeared in

So much for a quick trip to the bank. The line for the teller was massive. I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering it was the Friday before Labor Day. Still, I wasn’t feeling up to a long wait.

My third week of chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma had left me zapped of energy. I was too exhausted even to turn around and walk back out.

Everyone else in the bank looked to be in high spirits. I felt a pang of jealousy as I stepped to the end of the line. Normally I’d spend Labor Day hiking and camping in the Rockies. Now I could barely run a few errands.

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My friends were sympathetic, but none of them really understood what I was going through. How could they?

I let out a loud sigh. I just want to go home. The man in front of me turned around. He was Native American with strong features and soft eyes. I could see a hint of a turquoise earring beyond his dark braid. “How are you today?” he asked.

“Hot and tired,” I grumbled.

“Me too,” he said. “But it doesn’t keep me from being happy.”

“My chemotherapy treatments make being happy a little tough right now,” I snapped. Not all of us can have such a sunny disposition.

“I’m a cancer survivor myself,” the guy said.

“Really?” I suddenly felt embarrassed, ashamed of myself for taking out my frustrations on a complete stranger. A cancer survivor, no less!

“Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

I almost couldn’t believe it. “That’s what I’m being treated for,” I said. The man squeezed my shoulder. “It’s just so hard not being able to do the things I used to.”

“I know what you mean,” he said. “My grandmother was a medicine woman. She performed ceremonial dances until she died. I wanted to carry on those traditions so the rituals would not be lost. It was very difficult when my treatments kept me from that obligation.”

He told me about the elaborate costumes he wore for each dance, carefully constructed based on ancestral methods. The band of his headdress was decorated with intricate beadwork, the tiny beads stitched together into complex geometric patterns in all the colors of a sunset.

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Those would give way to a cascade of feathers that trailed down the back. I could almost see him in full regalia in my mind’s eye—brilliant white feathers lying across his shoulders as though he were wearing an angel’s wings.

The dances themselves sounded dazzling too. Crowds gathered to watch him perform. They cheered and sang along with the rhythmic hum of the music. I imagined myself there, surrounded by a group of people brought together by love and tradition.

As the man spoke, the backdrop of the hot, crowded bank seemed to melt away.

“It sounds amazing!” I said, caught up in the imagery.

“Now that I am better, I’m back at it.” He grinned. “So you can see why I am happy.”

The bank teller got the man’s attention and waved him over. I hadn’t even noticed we’d reached the front of the line. I watched the guy’s back as he went up to the counter. He’s doing what he loves again, I thought. One day I hoped to be able to go on another big hiking trip. That’s what I’ll focus on!

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