During two separate childhood incidents, a mysterious, heaven-sent angel appeared to save her life.
Posted in , Jun 25, 2022
Retirement was a little quieter than I’d planned for, since Covid restrictions kept me at home. One afternoon, finishing up the breakfast dishes, I found myself thinking back on my busy working life as a professor. I’d had a long career and was amazed that my visual memory was so clear. Students I’d taught, colleagues I’d befriended at different schools, the administrators—dozens of faces came to mind. Swimming among them, one came to the forefront, a face I remembered way back from my childhood. I turned off the tap.
My family lived in a tenement apartment over a store in Holyoke, Massachusetts. I was four years old in 1953, but already I’d developed a reputation for adventure. More than once I’d slipped out of our apartment alone. My mother tried her best to keep me close, but I could find trouble right under her nose.
One day, I was playing hide-and seek with a friend right in the hallway of our building. The two of us took turns hiding inside an old icebox someone had stuck in a corner. I shut the icebox door behind me and giggled, waiting for my friend to find me. But she didn’t. I waited and waited. The game stopped being fun. When I tried to push the door open, it didn’t budge. I was trapped. I banged on the door. I kicked it. I started to cry.
Crying wasn’t easy in that close, hot space. I had to work hard even to breathe. So hard I got exhausted. I curled up in a ball and closed my eyes to rest. I felt like I was floating as I sank into a deep sleep.
I don’t know how long I slept. When I opened my eyes a man’s face was hovering above me. He had dark hair, dark eyes and an expression so calm I felt completely at ease. He was holding me gently in his arms. It took me a minute to realize we were in the tenement hallway. My mother was there too. The man passed me from his arms into hers, then walked away.
Many times after that day I heard the story from my mother’s point of view. How I didn’t answer her calls for lunch and she worried I’d run away. How my friend had been called home and could only imagine that I must still be hiding. How everyone in the building had helped search, but no one ever thought to look in the old icebox.
“Then, out of nowhere,” my mother would always say, “a man came walking up the stairs. He didn’t live in the building. No one had ever seen him before. He went straight to that icebox, opened it up and lifted you out. He never said a word as he put you into my arms. Just turned and walked out again!”
No one could ever identify him. As for me, I learned to stay away from old iceboxes. But that was about it. A couple years later, on a Sunday afternoon, we went for a family picnic on a lake outside of town. None of us really knew how to swim, so my dad blew up a pair of inner tubes for me and my little brother. We stuck to the shallows, climbing onto our tubes, then jumping off into the water. When our feet touched the soft, sandy bottom, we smacked the surface, making as big a splash as possible before climbing back onto our tubes. The waders around us laughed.
My brother was content to keep up the game. I laid myself flat over the top of my tube and paddled, pretending I was on a ship. The waves rocked me gently to and fro. The voices of the other swimmers seemed to fade as I drifted...
“Doris!” My mother’s shout suddenly cut through the stillness. I sat up. I was nearly in the middle of the lake. “Doris, come back!”
“Coming!” My arms were tired from paddling. Easier to run back over that sandy bottom, I thought. I hopped off the inner tube. My feet only found water. Deep water. I flailed around trying to grab at my tube as it bobbed away. My head slipped under. I broke the surface and tried to call for help, but only succeeded in swallowing a big gulp of water. I sank under again. It was calm and peaceful there, filled with what seemed to be twinkling stars.
I couldn’t see people on the shore crying out to the boats on the lake to help me, or the man who stood up from his blanket near my parents. Didn’t see him enter the water and swim with fast, sure strokes. I didn’t hear the people on the shore swear I was too far away for him to reach me in time, that he’d never find the spot where I’d gone under. Didn’t hear them gasp and whisper, “It’s the child!” when he came back to the surface with something floating beside him—me. I was only aware of being able to breathe again, of being carried back to the beach. That’s when I opened my eyes to see a man’s face surrounded by bright blue sky. The face of a man with dark hair and dark, comforting eyes. He placed me in my mother’s arms, turned and walked away. It was as if the icebox incident had replayed itself once more.
“Mama,” I said. “It’s the angel.”
Maybe that’s why I've always committed faces to memory, I thought as I dried my hands on the towel. Despite my adventurous nature, I had to admit that it was nice to have this time for quiet reverie. Remembering all of those faces brought me joy, but the one with dark eyes showed me the comfort of heaven. I know I will see that face again someday.
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