I grew up believing in angels. Even at a young age, my parents told me I had my very own guardian angel. What that meant to me as a young child was that some very pretty human being with wings was watching over me. I learned a nightly prayer that called on my guardian angel:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
Guide me safely through the night
And, wake me with the morning light
And, every Catholic grade school child learns the “Prayer to the Guardian Angel”:
Angel of God, my guardian dear
To whom God’s love permits me here
Ever this day be at my side
To light, to guard, to rule and guide.
As I grew older, there was a brief moment in time when I wondered why I could not see my guardian angel, especially since so many great artists were able to paint pictures of them. Some were curly haired toddlers with small wings. Others were tall, lean, and graceful women with a serene countenance sitting next to someone in need or hovering over someone in protection, also with wings but these were long and powerful. At Christmas I heard the story of how a choir of angels burst into song at Jesus’ birth. These angels, of course, were dressed in white choir robes with red sashes. The wings seemed optional for a choir of angels.
I do believe that my one of my earliest memories of angels came from Hollywood in my favorite movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. I loved the sweet, doddering Clarence who was out to save George Bailey from suicide by showing George how he had made a difference in so many lives. I always cried when little Zuzu hears a bell ring and says, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” My image of angels was that they were like humans and had to earn their wings. Other than loving Clarence, for much of my childhood and into my early 20s I gave little thought to angels. I suppose I believed in them, but I was not sure if their existence was real or it was part of some folklore or tradition passed down in the Catholic Church.
My view of guardian angels changed one day talking to a former student of mine named Susie, who had recently survived a horrific car crash. Susie was a devout Catholic, who was in the youth choir with me and at one point was in the church youth group I ran. I knew her pretty well. When Susie was in college in Miami, Florida, she was dating a man who lived in Tampa. On the weekends, they would take turns visiting one another.