When Angels Stop By
I was leaving a grocery store the other day and returning my cart to a masked woman who was wielding a paper towel and a spray bottle of sanitizer. As she reached for the cart a man, who was walking behind me, said, “Sir, excuse me, but I’d like to tell you something.” Apprehensively I paused.
To my own bewilderment, I’ve become guarded while shopping in the last six months. In addition to having had an angry man yell and cuss at me the other day for mistakingly thinking I was looking at his maskless-face, the taped-to-the-floor standing positions at checkout counters, the directional aisle arrows, the proliferation of hand-sanitizer stations, and vision-hampering masks are disorienting. A growing suspicion of other people, coughing children, door handles, handrails, and shopping carts feel like a freefall into paranoia. Feelings of isolation in the midst of a crowd while performing the simple act of buying milk have begun to stitch me to the unfamiliar hem of anxiety.
Catching up and stopping just to the side of me, the middle-aged man with something to “tell” me said,
” I just want to tell you what a terrific hat you’re wearing. My grandfather had a hat just like that – a hat with a skinny brim. When I was a kid I asked him once why the brim was so little. He told me that when I wasn’t around he put birdseed in the brim and because it was narrow and flipped up it held a lot of seed and made it easy for birds to perch on it. I used to watch his hat all the time hoping I would get to see a bird land on it. I love that memory. Thanks for reminding me of it.”
Eyes wide and smiling he turned and hurried ahead of me, out of the doors and into the shards of the sun being reflected off of the cars in the parking lot. Squinting against the light I said to the silhouette of his back, “And thank you for telling me that story.”
A shadow lifting from my spirit, the man turned again and stepping backward for a few steps, raised his thumb in my direction.
My grandfather Charlie wore a broad-brimmed hat, but I don’t remember ever wondering about it. I do remember that he once told me that he didn’t pray like my grandmother because he didn’t believe in God but that he did suspect that there might be angels around if you needed them.
I’ve kept on the lookout ever since.