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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why I believe in guardian angels

The classic image of a guardian angel, protecting children who travel a broken bridge above a rude flood.
I was taught that each person has a guardian angel. When I was in second grade at Mother of Good Counsel school in Milwaukee,  Sister Yolanda instructed us to leave some room on our chairs so our angels could sit beside us. The classroom was already crowded, with 60 of us children, but we scooched over and made more room.

For many years, my bedtime prayer was "Angel of God."
Angel of God
my guardian dear
to whom God's love
commits me here -
ever this day
be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule, and guide.
Once I grew up, I forgot about guardian angels.

Then I became a mother to two boys. Lucky for us, we lived across the street from a hospital. I swore they knew me by face in the emergency room - "There comes that bad mother again, with her banged-up son." There were times I was sure that especially our younger boy, Brian, would never live to age 12. So many stitches.
I thought about guardian angels then, but mostly as a joke. After another trip back from the hospital, I'd say, "Brian, your poor guardian angel's wings are probably all in tatters from taking care of you."

And so it went.

Somewhere along the decades, angels became popular. They were IN. You'd see angelic images everywhere, even in secular settings. I think that for many people, angels seemed like something between fairies and good witches. They were symbols of good luck, remotely spiritual, and the subjects of much art (some of it lovely, much of it corny).
Novels featuring spiritual warfare became best sellers. In those grim stories, angels battled as foot soldiers in a Divine Army fighting Satan and his demons.
Through all of this, my belief in angels was stirred but not ignited. However, two events separated by almost two decades have convinced me that beings exist who do their best to protect us.
 A car accident. 
In May of 1994, I had just had my neck brace removed after cervical spinal surgery to take out a herniated disk and replace it with a piece of my own hipbone. Finally, months of searing neck pain had ended. Feeling fresh air on my neck for the first time in weeks, I was driving my 1988 Ford Country Squire wagon about 38 mph along Pilgrim Road in Menomonee Falls. I loved that car. It was burgundy with fake wood panels on the sides, and it hummed along on a big V-8 engine. In its way-back, it had two seats that faced each other like bus seats. We named the car "Gort," after the robot in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." One time Gort held ten of us (three adults and seven children) in seat belts on a five-hour trip from Up North back to the Falls.
Unbeknown to me, there was a guy who was high on antidepressants sailing along Pilgrim Road. I check my rear view mirror pretty often, but I never saw him approaching. The guy barrelled into me, at great speed, from the rear.
All I heard was a giant BANG! and then I found myself struggling to keep my car on the road. I took my foot off the gas and gripped the steering wheel fiercely. I turned it right, left, right, left, as the car fishtailed (the guy had hit me slightly off-center). Gort careened off the road, onto the broad front lawn of a Masonic Temple. At that point, I shut my eyes and let go of the steering wheel. Finally the wagon rolled to a halt. I opened my eyes. Another motorist stopped and helped me out of my ruined car. I was shaking uncontrollably, and he held me until I stopped trembling. Finally I looked back at my car's path. I could see Gort's tire marks on the lawn. After I had shut my eyes, the car had traveled neatly between two trees.
Who was driving after I let go? I have my ideas. Let's just say I've always loved the song "Jesus Take the Wheel."

 A sledding accident that didn't happen.
Two days after Christmas this year, I invited two grandchildren and five "borrowed" grandchildren over for a par-tay at Mémere's house (that's my house). The plan was simple: sledding, hot chocolate, some Betty Boop, and some sandwiches. 

The "big" kids range in age from eleven down to three. I got them set up with boots, hats, mittens, and ancient sleds and saucers I dug out from the barn. I stayed inside with the baby, David, who is only six months old and not quite ready for sledding. I assumed the kids would slide down the gentle slope behind our garage. 

Silly Mémere.

By the time I got David settled safely inside so I could go outside with my camera, I discovered the big kids having a whoop of a time in the most dangerous area possible. They had found another slope, on the side of the garage. The two oldest ones took off from the top of the plowed snow hill. The four younger ones started at the base of that hill.

But no matter where they started from, they all headed downward into a field of sharp lannon stones barely covered by snow...and through a maze of spruce trees.

I held my freaking-out at bay and enlisted the stronger ones to help me as I tried to lift the lannon stones and heave them aside in the tall grasses. But we couldn't budge them all. Then I realized that even if I could remove all the sharp edges at the base, the kids would still have to maneuver around the trees. And I've read too  many newspaper articles about kids and adults dying after sledding into trees.

So I said, "Sled behind the garage."

They complained that they couldn't get enough speed. I explained the principle of grooming a trail. They grasped the idea quickly and found they could increase their speed with each pass. They were happy and sledded until their cheeks were red with the cold.

Later, Oliver, my seven-year-old grandson, described the scene that took place before I went outside. The big kids had set up Bailey, the three-year-old, in a saucer sled. She had been sliding down all by herself into the morass of jagged edges and unyielding timber.

Now, I'll admit that their sledding path was short and most of the kids weigh too little to get a good head of speed.

Still... who was driving those sleds when I wasn't around?

I realize that we all have to die, and some of us will die in accidents. My own mother and father and brother died in a car accident in 1978. Angels surely do not have ultimate power.

Still, I believe.

Bailey at bottom of hill, Bella climbing, Alaina at top
Bailey, Chucky, Oliver, Bella, Elana, and Alaina

    The collision course they sledded into - trees, plastic water pipe, and sharp lannon stones barely covered by snow.

Elana ready to slide

Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, and Don't Worry Baby, all available from

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