The Angel Who Helped Her 'Keep the Faith'

Newly divorced and feeling hopeless, a woman receives much-needed encouragement from a stranger.

by
- Posted on Jan 27, 2020

Hopeful Woman approaches her new life

Sunshine burst through the tall glass windows and the first light notes of the “Appalachia Waltz” sounded from the string trio. I took a deep breath, squeezed my bridal bouquet of white calla lilies and started my slow procession down the aisle. How happy I felt in this moment, happier than I’d ever dreamed possible. Ken, my groom, took my arm and we approached the altar. My best friend stood beside me as my honor attendant. Her bouquet of pink calla lilies was perfect, the sturdy, cylindrical petals peeking out from a spray of baby’s breath. Like spongy pink hair curlers, I thought. Hair curlers. Not the most romantic comparison, but one that had special significance to me. In a wayit was curlers that had gotten me here today.

Seven years ago, I’d taken a short trip away from my home in New York City. It had been ages since I’d spent the night alone in a hotel. Just divorced at 34 I’d forgotten how to enjoy anything on my own. A favorite restaurant, an afternoon movie, even the church my husband and I had attended every Sunday all seemed strange without him, and I ended up staying at home more and more. I lay on top of the thin hotel bedspread, staring up at the stucco ceiling. The television droned in the background. Will I ever get used to this?

I woke up in the same position at 3:00 A.M. The hotel fire alarm was going off. Quick as I could I pulled on a robe, grabbed my room key and joined the other guests filing into the parking lot. I stared at the ground, running a bare toe over the gravel while firemen checked out the problem. The other guests huddled together in their pajamas. A flash of pink caught my eye, and I stepped forward to see what it was. The crowd parted around me to reveal a little lady in a terrycloth bathrobe and slippers. Her gray hair was completely rolled in dozens of pale-pink curlers, and she held her robe tight to her neck. She’s all alone, like me, I thought. I wonder if she’s scared. I stood beside her, as much for her comfort as for mine.

“What brings you here?” the woman turned and asked.

I looked into her face. She seemed to be in her 70s, but her twinkling eyes belied her age. “I needed to get away,” I said. “I recently divorced, and the future seems so uncertain.” Had I just said that to a complete stranger?

The woman put her hand on my arm and shook her head, making the curlers bounce. “Oh, you mustn’t think like that,” she said. She leaned in close. I bent down to listen, bumping my nose on a spongy pink curler. “Keep the faith,” she whispered in my ear. “The best is yet to come.” Could that really be true? Looking into the woman’s sparkling eyes, I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, it could be.

“False alarm,” the hotel manager called out.“We apologize for the inconvenience.” I held out my arm to escort the woman back into the hotel, but she was no longer standing beside me. I scanned the crowd for the head full of pink curlers. Strange, I thought. Not just her disappearance, but the warm, hopeful feeling in my chest.

I took the feeling back home with me, determined to make a new life for myself. The first time I entered a restaurant alone I wanted to run right out the door before I even looked at the menu. I forced myself to stay. And traveling filled me with dread no matter where I was going. “This just isn’t working,” I sighed one evening after returning home early from a weekend at the beach. “I just can’t hack it alone.” But before I could throw out my suitcases, I heard the voice of the lady in pink curlers: “Keep the faith. The best is yet to come.”

Keep the faith. Had I really been doing that? I hadn’t been to church since my divorce. It’s time to give it a try, I decided. After all, there were other churches in New York besides the one I’d belonged to with my husband. I just had to find the one that was right for me.

I started visiting, and my prayer was the same in each church: “God, I need your help finding my place in this world.” It wasn’t easy sitting in a pew by myself, but it wasn’t impossible, either. Each Sunday was a small victory. I began to venture out on my own: movies, museums, bookshops. Eventually I decided to use my frequent flyer miles and take a weeklong solo trip to Paris. The best is yet to come, I reminded myself on the Champs-Élysées.

Upon my return, I resumed my Sunday research. I’d visited a dozen churches before I finally dropped in at St. Clement’s, which I’d often walked past. The building left a lot to be desired, its red paint peeling, but I got a good feeling as soon as I sat down inside. The preacher had a way of speaking that drew me in and made me feel right at home. “Loving God is a process,” he said. “It brings us out of isolation and into the embrace of a community.”

I went back to St. Clement’s the following Sunday, and the next after that. In between I actually enjoyed my life, even the quiet times alone. In fact, I found myself scheduling time alone. I was happy again. Soon I wasn’t waiting for Sunday to go to church. I volunteered for some of the outreach programs the church sponsored and got to know the preacher. We became quite good friends along the way. That friendship turned to love, and Ken asked me to marry him. I’d never been so sure of anything as I was about accepting his proposal.

The final notes of the string trio faded, and I turned to face Ken for our vows. I looked into his eyes as he slipped the wedding ring on my finger and thought about that little lady in the hotel parking lot, pink curlers bobbing in her hair. “The best is yet to come,” she’d said and she was right. I had found happiness, on my own and with Ken. All I had to do was keep the faith. A faith that today Ken and I keep together.

I looked into her face. She seemed to be in her 70s, but her twinkling eyes belied her age. “I needed to get away,” I said. “I recently divorced, and the future seems so uncertain.” Had I just said that to a complete stranger?

The woman put her hand on my arm and shook her head, making the curlers bounce. “Oh, you mustn’t think like that,” she said. She leaned in close. I bent down to listen, bumping my nose on a spongy pink curler. “Keep the faith,” she whispered in my ear. “The best is yet to come.” Could that really be true? Looking into the woman’s sparkling eyes, I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, it could be.

“False alarm,” the hotel manager called out.“We apologize for the inconvenience.” I held out my arm to escort the woman back into the hotel, but she was no longer standing beside me. I scanned the crowd for the head full of pink curlers. Strange, I thought. Not just her disappearance, but the warm, hopeful feeling in my chest.

I took the feeling back home with me, determined to make a new life for myself. The first time I entered a restaurant alone I wanted to run right out the door before I even looked at the menu. I forced myself to stay. And traveling filled me with dread no matter where I was going. “This just isn’t working,” I sighed one evening after returning home early from a weekend at the beach. “I just can’t hack it alone.” But before I could throw out my suitcases, I heard the voice of the lady in pink curlers: “Keep the faith. The best is yet to come.”

Keep the faith. Had I really been doing that? I hadn’t been to church since my divorce. It’s time to give it a try, I decided. After all, there were other churches in New York besides the one I’d belonged to with my husband. I just had to find the one that was right for me.

I started visiting, and my prayer was the same in each church: “God, I need your help finding my place in this world.” It wasn’t easy sitting in a pew by myself, but it wasn’t impossible, either. Each Sunday was a small victory. I began to venture out on my own: movies, museums, bookshops. Eventually I decided to use my frequent flyer miles and take a weeklong solo trip to Paris. The best is yet to come, I reminded myself on the Champs-Élysées.

Upon my return, I resumed my Sunday research. I’d visited a dozen churches before I finally dropped in at St. Clement’s, which I’d often walked past. The building left a lot to be desired, its red paint peeling, but I got a good feeling as soon as I sat down inside. The preacher had a way of speaking that drew me in and made me feel right at home. “Loving God is a process,” he said. “It brings us out of isolation and into the embrace of a community.”

I went back to St. Clement’s the following Sunday, and the next after that. In between I actually enjoyed my life, even the quiet times alone. In fact, I found myself scheduling time alone. I was happy again. Soon I wasn’t waiting for Sunday to go to church. I volunteered for some of the outreach programs the church sponsored and got to know the preacher. We became quite good friends along the way. That friendship turned to love, and Ken asked me to marry him. I’d never been so sure of anything as I was about accepting his proposal.

The final notes of the string trio faded, and I turned to face Ken for our vows. I looked into his eyes as he slipped the wedding ring on my finger and thought about that little lady in the hotel parking lot, pink curlers bobbing in her hair. “The best is yet to come,” she’d said and she was right. I had found happiness, on my own and with Ken. All I had to do was keep the faith. A faith that today Ken and I keep together.

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