Before—everything mattered. Now? Nothing does.
“It seems excessive—” the new angel says, eyes brimming with tears. “Grief descends on them so quickly.” He looks down again, keenly feeling each pang of despair, pooling in black waves around them like a treacherous sea.
“It does,” the old archangel agrees. “But in their particular realm, grief is usually conflated with fear. The ‘not knowing’ is the hardest part for them.”
“My heart hurts,” the new angel laments, folding his hands together over his chest.
“I understand your concern, but our job is to serve humanity, not wallow with them,” the old archangel reminds him.
“I’ll show you.” The old archangel hurries them along, lest the new angel will start peppering him with endless questions—questions even old archangels have no answer for. For some questions, perhaps only the cherubim and seraphim do.
“That poor child—!” The new angel points into the expanse, eyes wide with horror.
“That child will need strength from this experience to carry him through future trials,” the old archangel explains matter-of-factly. “It would be worse if he did not progress.”
The old archangel does not mean to be dismissive, but there is so much to learn in becoming a guardian angel. If the new angel weeps over every momentarily lost soul, he will never finish his training. If that occurs, the old archangel will never advance to principality, perhaps never entering the second triad of angels.
“O, I can hear their intercessory prayers,” the new angel calls out, throwing himself on a cloud, sobbing. “They are calling out for me!”
“They are not calling out for you,” the old archangel chides. “They are calling out for light.”
He lets the new angel cry.
The old archangel sighs, remembering when he first was called to minister. Has he grown so callous over time? Easy to forget grief’s shadow when surrounded by perpetual light. These mortals did not seem to know what to do when heartache saps every shred of faith—faith that all things might happen for a reason.
No wonder half the earth sits in darkness.
The new angel stands up. “Why did you say they want light? There is the sun. There is the moon and stars and lights in the firmament. They are bathed in light!”
“Those lights are reassuring and good, but more than anything, our grief-stricken friends want purpose and meaning to their suffering,” he explains. “That is what brings them from the brink: the things that truly matter.”
“What truly matters?”
“It depends,” says the old archangel. “It depends on what their hearts are set on.”
“I need to guard them against grief,” declares the new angel, balling up his fists.
“You will most likely need to guard them against the desires of their heart.”
The new angel looks puzzled. “What do they want?”
“Usually what they cannot have,” replies the old archangel. “Or what they should not want in the first place.”
“Let me see so I can serve them better.”
“You are not entirely ready to be a guardian,” the old archangel says. “However, there is someone you should see.”
Since the past, present, and future do not flow like a river but are ever present, the old archangel takes him to see a little girl in the 1950’s. Dressed in a yellow gingham skirt and white top, she openly weeps on the floor of her somber bedroom, arms wrapped tightly around a fuzzy brown bear.
“WHO MADE HER CRY,” demands the new angel.
“Her friends. She did not get a part in the school play,” the old archangel recounts. “Her friends have been assigned choice roles, and they teased her. She feels utterly abandoned.”
The new angel looks murderous. “Let me SMITE them. I will smite them all.”
“No,” the old archangel replies. “Just go sit by her side. Allow her to remember how much she likes performing on stage. Give her glimpses of future possibilities.”
“But listen to her! HER HEART IS CLEFT IN TWAIN!”
“She is going to learn compassion once the clouds clear. She will need it when she runs her own theater company one day.”
“There must be an easier way,” the new angel objects.
“There is not,” the old archangel sighs. “So much of this realm is paradoxical. We help by not helping. Go and sit by her. Guard her heart against bitterness.”
As the new angel carefully finds his way to the little girl’s side, he sits with his legs crisscrossed under his white robe next to her on the floor.
Tears dry. She gets up and blows her nose. While she is up, she pulls out a scrapbook from a shelf, flipping through memories of past plays and performances. A smile of memory dissipates the gloom.
“You did well,” the old archangel decides.
“I didn’t do anything,” the new angel replies.
“You did enough,” the old archangel says. “Now come with me. She will need you in twenty years.”
In the 1970’s, the little girl is a lovely young woman, in her peak of beauty and elegance. Again, she is splayed out on her bedroom floor, rivulets of mascara dripping down her cheeks. Torn love letters and mementos are scattered across the orange shag carpet.
“WHO MADE HER CRY,” the new angel demands again, this time through clenched teeth.
“She made herself cry,” says the old archangel.
“How did she do that?” the new angel inquires, looking skeptically.
“She loved someone she should not have. Someone who had made vows to another.”
The new angel looks down at his sandals. “I don’t know how to help her.”
“You help her by not helping her.”
“Do I just sit by her?”
“You just sit by her.”
“Do I guard her heart?”
“Yes, guard her heart,” the old archangel advises. “Guard it against bitterness. She will be very sad for a long time, but she will learn what love and commitment really mean. In time, she will heal and find someone she should love.”
“But she is in such pain,” the new angel cries. “This wound is far deeper than missing out on a school play . . .”
“One day she will fondly remember her lover, but with far less anger and far more gratitude. She will remember how much she learned from him.”
“So, memory enlightens them?” the new angel asks.
“Memory is light,” the old archangel replies, putting a hand on his shoulder. “And your friend will sorely need you again soon. Bring as much light as you can conjure up.”
In the 2020’s, the lovely young woman is old and tired and gray. Once again, she is in her bedroom, collapsed by her bedside, past the point of feeling, stunned into a bottomless despair.
The angels stand by in silence.
Finally, two large tears slowly roll out of the corners of the old woman’s eyes.
“Who made her cry,” the new angel asks quietly. The scene is too tender to speak above a whisper.
“God,” the old archangel replies.
“Why would God—”
“Shh. Go sit with her. Guard her heart against bitterness.”
The new angel sees in the old woman’s mind’s eye all the hopes and dreams for a beloved grandson, cruelly shattered, as the baby is stillborn.
The new angel cries with her. When he looks up, he sees the old archangel is weeping, too.
“What possible lesson can this teach her?!” the new angel fiercely asks.
“This lesson is not for her, but for her own daughter. A parent feels triple the loss, once for themselves and double for their child."
“It’s almost unbearable,” the new angel murmurs, looking up from the old woman’s side.
“True,” the old archangel agrees. “Parents would gladly take on their children’s suffering. Imagine how God feels.”
The angels sit by her side for an even longer time. Eventually, the swirling darkness fades from black to blue to purple to pale green to yellow.
“What is happening now?” asks the new angel.
“She is remembering her own children, and those memories bring both light—and hope.”
“Then, let there be light,” the new angel says, looking out the old woman's bedroom window, watching the golden flickers of a sunrise peak over the horizon, neatly dispelling the darkness.
Before—everything mattered. Now? Everything might.