This I Believe
I believe in angels.
About a dozen years ago, the Monday after Thanksgiving, my brother called me at the office.
“I’m in the hospital, but don’t worry,” he said. “ It’s just a spot of pneumonia.”
I called my husband on the intercom and told him. Neither of us voiced what we feared, what we had dreaded and expected for years, that Jon had AIDS.
Later that week, we were in New York on business when the other phone call came, this time from Dick, Jon’s partner of many years. “The news isn’t good,” he said. “It’s PML.”
So, of course, it was more, lots more than a spot of pneumonia. PML, or Progressive Multifocal Encephalopathy is a particularly insidious form of AIDS. It attacks the central nervous center, the brain, and the eyes. “Jon will eventually probably lose his mind and certainly his eyesight.”
His eyesight. I spent a childhood of people ooh-ing and aah-ing at my brother’s beautiful dark blue eyes, making a sometimes unspoken comparison to mine, only hazel. To think that he might lose sight in those eyes was unbearable.
Thanksgiving was late that year, and it was now the first week of December. The city was dressed up for the holidays in a way unique to Manhattan. Lights everywhere, Christmas trees for sale on the sidewalks, Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells. Christmas displays, holiday music in the taxis. The mere sound of “There’s a Song in the Air” left me in tears. I was a mess.
My husband was in meetings all day, so I filled the days with Christmas shopping, walking for hours on end, exploring little shops on the Upper West Side, anything to avoid thinking about what lay ahead for Jon, for us, for the children who adored their only uncle. Feeling almost disembodied as I walked along the streets of Manhattan, I had the strangest sense of being in a bubble. At some point I realized I wasn’t alone: there was an angel sitting on my shoulder, keeping me safe. Nobody ran into me, jostled or shoved or said a rude word. Storekeepers invited me in for tea and cookies; another merchant, well-known for his gruffness towards customers, repackaged something I’d bought in another store to protect it. They couldn’t have seen the angel, any more than I could, but they saw or felt “something” that informed the way they reacted to me in those days.
I’ve thought about that week many times in the ensuing years and can’t begin to make sense of it. It’s also never happened again, but the memory is as vivid as if it were yesterday. Particularly at Christmas, when I see angels hanging on the tree or in decorative displays, my thoughts return to the days when surely an angel came to help me. The mere sight of an angel makes me smile and say a silent prayer of gratitude for help I can’t explain during some very dark days.
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