My staircase looked as tall as Mount Everest. But there was no alternative: I’d have to climb the mountain.
My back and leg were on fire with pain. As I’d done so many times before, I stood at the bottom of the stairs, summoning the courage. Then I started climbing — on hands, feet and knees — and told myself that I was a brave mountaineer. Sometimes, you just have to lie to yourself and hope yourself believes it.
At the top landing, I sat down. The truth was that I felt exhausted, sorry for myself and not at all brave. But it was worth the trip upstairs to my office. An email came from my husband, who’d left for work early that morning.
“Forgot to tell you”, he wrote. “I heard a Cardinal singing this morning. I looked out the kitchen door and saw a female… the male must have been nearby.”
I smiled. I could almost hear the bird singing. Could almost believe that spring had really arrived and winter was really over.
It was mid- afternoon and my daughter’s little dog, Mr. D., woke up and headed downstairs. It was time for his walk around the garden.
Together we went out the door and into the garden, snowflakes swirling around us.
He scampered along and I followed slowly, leaning on my cane. His fur is white, making him invisible against the snow without his sweater on. And he’s so small that the low boxwood plants that border the centre garden bed can hide him completely.
At one point I couldn’t see Mr. D. at all, though he was standing just a few feet away, wearing his sweater. Then I saw a blur of black and white speeding around the boxwood circle. I smiled. He slowed down till I caught up.
When we returned to the front doorway, I saw a small box, with my name on it.
I tore open the cardboard. There was a book inside.
It was Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. I’d been wanting to read it.
There was a short note accompanying the book:
“For Cynthia, who notices things ‘close up’ and understands in both visceral and transcendent ways the ‘Signature of All Things’ and can write so beautifully even when she hurts.”
It was from Jacqui, who works at the London Public Library. How did she know? I wondered. How did she know that on a day like today, this gift would cheer me up no end?
I smiled. The angel at work again.
Sometimes the angel is a sound: the song of a cardinal on a winter day; the harmony played by the wind chimes on our verandah; the hilariously huge snore that comes from a tiny dog’s body as he snoozes on the floor beside me.
Sometimes she’s a scruffy-looking stranger. The young man who rushed to open a heavy door for me, his kind smile illuminating his entire face.
Sometimes she’s a friend. Jacqui, sending me that book. My husband, telling me that spring is here: the birds are singing. My sister, showing a keen understanding.
The phone rang. My sister had asked me – I forget when, exactly – to find out something for her. I did. But now she was on the phone, asking for the answer, and I couldn’t remember what it was that I’d found out. Too much pain, too little sleep, for days and nights on end. I felt ashamed to tell her that I couldn’t remember. I tried to speak; instead of words, a disjointed stutter was all I could manage. For just a moment, I felt as if I might burst into tears.
My sister recognized the warning signs and reacted quickly.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll talk tomorrow. Just stop everything and rest now.”
I imagine that if the angel ever showed up as herself, she’d look like my mother: soft brown skin, short, silver-grey hair, the picture of serenity. In the meantime, she takes different forms and sounds, and helps me out when I least expect it.
“How do you manage to project such positive thoughts on your blog when you’re feeling so miserable?” a friend asked me one day. She’d paid me a surprise visit, and found me struggling to get around.
“When I write on my blog, I try to uplift my readers,” I replied. “Not sure what it does for them, but it sure makes me feel better!” At that, we’d both shared an understanding laugh and sipped our tea.
Of course, I should also have said: “Did I ever tell you about the angel?”
Dedicated to Merle, Jane, Joanne — and all the other angels in my life.