For a long moment I couldn’t move. I’d never felt so peaceful. So cared for. So loved in a personal way.
Jun 5, 2017
Seven o’clock. Just about time for my evening walk. I tucked my cell phone into my pocket and headed off down the road, where the summer cottages stretched out along the Juniata River in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. I walked past the cottage next to mine, past . . .
I stopped. Gladys’s cottage stood empty. It was still hard for me to believe that she wasn’t inside. We weren’t family by blood—she and her husband were great friends of my parents while I was growing up. Her daughter and I were like sisters, and Gladys was like a second mother to me. Our families spent every summer up here together, with just one cottage between us.
When I became a middle school teacher I started spending my summers up here again. My father had died, and so had Gladys’s husband. Mom often came up to stay for a week at a time, but mostly it was just me and Gladys. In the evening when I took my walk I’d call into her screen door as I passed her cottage. “I’m leaving now!”
Gladys would appear at the screen door and wave. “Seven-oh-five!” she’d call, checking the time. If I wasn’t back after 40 minutes or so, I knew she’d come looking for me. “You never know what might happen,” she used to say. “What if you tripped and sprained an ankle?”
Of course that was why I always carried my cell phone on me, but I really did feel better that Gladys was alert to my absence. It was a comfort to know someone cared about me and was ready to come if needed. It made me feel loved in a personal way. So each evening when I returned from my walk I made sure to call in as I passed Gladys’s cottage. “I’m back, safe and sound!”
Now Gladys was gone from this life. She’d died unexpectedly just before summer began. Her daughter called to let me know, and we cried over our great loss together. Not until now did I realize all the little ways I would miss Gladys daily. I looked up at her dark windows. Who will keep track of me now?
I continued on my way, but without the usual bounce in my step. The sheltering oaks and maple trees, the lilies and violets, the sound of a distant bird call or the wind in the leaves—nothing brought me the peace I usually found on my evening walk. I felt for my phone in my pocket, made sure it had a charge. Who’d notice if I didn’t come back safe and sound?
The hill where I turned back loomed just up ahead. “Gladys,” I said out loud, “nothing’s quite the same without you.” The road, my walks, the summer—somehow they all felt empty.
Or not quite empty, I suddenly saw. Something blew around in the air up ahead. A white plastic grocery bag, it looked like, floated on the breeze. When it landed on the ground about 100 feet in front of me I saw that it was too big for that. So what . . . ? I couldn’t take my eyes off it, trying to figure it out. Coming closer, I saw the form change. Something was taking shape on the hill.
The “plastic bag” stretched up. Two wings spread out on either side. I stopped short. Caught my breath. Is it a bird? But it was growing before my eyes. This was no bird. An angel 15 feet tall stood before me in profile.
I could see him clearly in the evening light: his white robe, his dark, shoulder-length hair, his bare feet. Even the individual feathers in his wings were distinct. He didn’t speak or look my way. But I sensed that he waited for me to take it all in, to be absolutely sure of what it was I was seeing. His wings fluttered gently. Then he rose into the sky and disappeared.
For a long moment I couldn’t move. I’d never felt so peaceful. So cared for. So loved in a personal way. Finally I headed back to my cottage. The road, my walks, the summer—they weren’t empty at all. Gladys could surely see that from her screen door in heaven.
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