It happened a long time ago, but I still remember the date, December 4, 1984.
A very young 22 year old freshly out of design school, I was living a dream in the city that never sleeps. On that bitterly cold Sunday afternoon, I had been spending the day enjoying the Van Gogh at Arles exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a good friend of mine.
As we left the warmth of the museum, we instantly learned that it had become even colder outside! The product of youth, of course, was that we were both unprepared for the weather. More concerned about how we looked than how we needed to shield ourselves from the cold, we both had light coats on. No hats, no mittens, no scarves to protect us from the biting wind. Together, we huddled and briskly walked down Fifth Avenue in search of my friends car. He had come from New Rochelle in his not so gently used, white Volkswagon Rabbit.
Some may remember the Volkswagon Rabbit. It was more of a bunny in size, but we were happy to see it! That tiny car was our refuge from the freezing cold.
Our feelings of relief quickly turned to panic when we looked down to see a flat tire up against the icy curb. When my friend opened the trunk, those feelings of panic soared at what we did not see. Another product of youth, my friend had never gotten around to replacing a lug wrench and even worse, a spare tire!
This crazy twist of fate had left us stranded, no spare, no lug wrench, no ride home and the snow beginning to fall heavily. Quickly, we sprang into action. Every car that stopped at a red light or slowed down in traffic was met with the desperate face of my friend, Walter. Icicles were beginning to form in his long hair, his nose was running, his mouth was stiff and his cheeks were red and frozen as he ran up to car windows, banging on the glass and begging for a lift to a gas station.
Now, surprising as this may be, in New York City, when someone in that condition runs up to your car shouting and banging on the window, you don’t open it! Walter received quite a bit of rejection.
Then, an amazing thing happened. As I huddled against a building to escape the harsh bite of a gust of freezing wind, I saw a car stopped at a red light. It was a not so gently used, white Volkswagon Rabbit! It could have been a twin of the one with the flat tire, now covered with snow. I rushed up to the driver’s window. It was that moment that I saw the face of an angel.
I merely pointed to our car and the driver, without a word, pulled up beside it. This alone was a feat accomplished only with the help of Divine Intervention, but then the angel stepped out of the car.
Angels have been depicted in art and described in literature, but none looked like the angel that stood before me. This angel stood about 6 feet tall, an African American man in his late fifties. He wore a huge, puffy, snow resistant parka. I saw only a bit of his face because the hood of the parka was thickly lined with fur and zipped up tightly around his face. What I did see was a pair of kind eyes behind some thick glasses and a gentle smile. My friend came rushing over huffing and puffing and gushing with relief. Then, we both watched as the angel expertly changed the tire using his own spare tire and lug wrench.
When he was finished, we both thanked him profusely and pulled out money to pay him for the tire. He put up his hand to stop us. With a smile, he said,”Just help someone else someday. You pay it back by paying it forward.”
Our paths did not cross again, but his words and his kindness stayed with me. Since that day, I donated to the poor and offered my help to others when I could, but it is often in very ordinary moments in the most ordinary of places that those true “angel” moments happen. Years later, there was one of those moments for me to take on angel powers in one of the least special places, a public restroom. A young mother had been changing her baby on a pull down changing table when I happened to pass by. In the time span of about one tenth of a second, four things happened at once. Freeze that tenth of a second and you would see a young mother screaming, a baby rolling off the table head first toward the hard tile floor, my hand catching that baby in the nick of time, and a pair of wings sprouting from my back, a halo over my head! Unfreeze the moment, and within a blink of an eye it was over. There was an exchange of a heartfelt ”thank you” from the mom and a ”your welcome” from me. Then, we went our separate ways. Somehow, without a second to think, I was able to have the instinct to make that catch and I believe that mom and baby went on to help another ordinary person on an ordinary day.
I have met many angels since. One that appeared just at the right moment to pull our family out of a wrecked car after an accident. One that appeared to save my son’s life. One that arrived just in the nick of time to help my father with his journey out of this life. Some have simply been there to provide that quarter we do not have, or that seat on a bus, catching those elevator doors when we may be running late.
So, you see, I believe in angels because I have met a few. Just ordinary people, even I stepped up to the task whether I knew it or not. Some of you may have had your turn as an angel and it can happen again when you least expect it. A moment when you are there at the right time and the right place to wear the wings.
It might just be today.