When Angels Stop By

Photo of seagull wing by Fred Swan

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.

Fred Swan by Don Bishop

14 Responses

  1. Cristy Murray says:

    It’s small things like that that help give back some of our humanity. Thank you for sharing that, Fred. Made my day a good bit brighter.

  2. Judy says:

    Thank you for making my morning a whole lot brighter. I think we are all stitched a bit into that hem of anxiety you described and we need kind words now more than ever.

  3. Fred Swan says:

    Thank you Cristy! That single event shook off a great many clouds that day.

  4. Sam says:

    What a lovely story to start my day. I love your hats. I remember (I think this a real memory and not my imagination) one time when the AIR gallery artist were setting up in P’5 and we were all wearing your hats… It made me feel so special to have your hat on my head.

  5. Fred Swan says:

    Good morning Judy. It takes conscious on my part to look for the light during our current challenges. Thanks so much for writing to me. I’m honored by your time.

  6. Fred Swan says:

    Thank you Sam! I do have photos somewhere of that ‘hat’ day. Always honored by showing work alongside yours. Really enjoyed your open studios!

  7. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. Be well.

  8. Fred Swan says:

    I was feeling so down that day and wham – an encounter that was like a tonic. Thank you for your time and feedback Michelle!

  9. Maureen says:

    That is so lovely Fred, my dad always wore a trilby when he was out and it made me think of him. Love the painting

  10. Fred Swan says:

    Hello Maureen! I’m happy that your dad’s trilby strolled through your memory. We miss you!!!

  11. Linda Negrin says:

    Oh Fred, what a lovely treat to hear your “voice” (words) again and with such an uplifting story. I do share with you those uncomfortable feelings of all those “used to be norms” that now bring uncertainty to every day interactions. Thank goodness there are those kind, gentle souls among us willing to share life’s sweetness and stories of the heart, even with strangers. Blessings to you, your family … and most of all .. your hat! Much love, Linda

  12. Fred Swan says:

    So nice to hear from you Linda! Times are hard in so many ways, but it’s all the more important to look for all of the positive things in our everyday lives. I was letting myself get drawn too far into the shadows – was going to give up on 2nd Tuesday – when suddenly this man showed up…really made me realize that I was starting to march through my days on the lookout for the ‘worst’ instead of good in all that is around me. All the best to you in the days ahead. Fred

  13. Sherry Kramer says:

    Dave has always noticed and enjoyed your hats, Fred. When we are out and about and he sees a guy with a cool hat, his response is always “that reminds me of Fred”. it brings a positive to our day.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts…..

  14. Fred Swan says:

    Hello Sherry! Thanks so much for writing and letting me know. We miss you!!!!