Do you ever have people cross your path and they leave a lasting impression forever? Even if the conversation/exchange/contact was such a brief moment in time it hardly registers as 0.01% of your life. But it leaves you irrevocably changed .
I’ve been blessed a few times in my life like that. I truly believe in the saying ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will come.’ I can’t help wondering if those teachers are Angels with Hidden Wings. Here’s just a couple of examples that spring to mind.
A few years ago I spontaneously popped into visit my Aunt and Uncle. They were having friends round for dinner and invited me to stay. I am really close to my Aunt and Uncle – my Uncle took on somewhat of a fatherly role after my dad died – so I was thrilled to say yes and spend more time with them. I was expecting for the evening to be filled with polite small talk on my part, with me not really having very much to say but just being grateful to be included. Well, I didn’t say very much at all but not because I felt awkward. Just because I was in awe. It turned out one of their very good friends at this dinner had been a journalist in South Africa and was one of the men in the Treason Trials. He knew Nelson Mandela and had been smuggled out of the country to avoid further vindication. He now spent his time writing and raising money for schools in the townships. It was only in the few years since the end of apartheid that he’d been able to go back to his country. Oh how I wanted to spend more time in the company of this amazing man and his wife! To ask more questions. To have some of his magic. I have never felt so humbled.
Lots of other Angels have crossed my path and nudged me in different directions. Most recently I met a woman who will have no idea what a light she is. I have to share her story because her strength is remarkable. Names have been changed out of respect for her identity.
Mae must be in her late 40s. She left her children and family behind in Jamaica to find a way of making enough money for them after her husband died. A tough decision. She came to the UK on a working visa and lived with her cousin, Asha. Mae is an educated lady, proud and hard-working. Her cousin fell pregnant and the baby’s father didn’t/couldn’t stay (I don’t know the full details here so cannot accurately account for the reasons). Asha died three months after giving birth to a little girl, Ruby, who had so many complications she had to stay in hospital until she was 10 months old. Grandparents took on legal guardianship of Ruby to prevent her going into foster care but didn’t want her to live with them, so Mae has taken on full responsibility for this perfect little girl with additional needs. Ruby is now 4 years old and due to go to school in September 2014.
Mae had to give up her job to care for Ruby and is now struggling on benefits. If a child was in foster care under the local authority the foster-carers would be paid. As Mae is considered family to Ruby, she gets no such support. She doesn’t drive. Her own daughter recently died at 21 years old and she has two grandchildren in Jamaica who she cannot afford to see. She can’t afford to go back out there and as she has a working visa she cannot bring them here. She has a wealth of responsibilities – health appointments. schooling etc to navigate her way through for the little girl she is raising. On her own. And she’s struggling; financially and emotionally. The only thing that keeps her going is Ruby.
My professional role as a Manager and Advisory Teacher for pre-schoolers with Special/Additional Needs and Disabilities is to help other educators understand certain conditions and how to support such children. A large part of my role is to help with the transition into mainstream school. This is how I met Mae. Ruby was referred to our service and I have the privilege of working with them. I met Mae properly for the first time three weeks ago.
We met at the school she wants Ruby to go to. It’s a popular Catholic school and as such there is a strict criteria in order for a child to get a place. One of those criteria is you need to be baptised. Mae was confident Ruby had been baptised when she was in hospital but when we checked her certificate she had been baptised Church of England. Not Catholic. Mae was so upset – she had thought Ruby was Catholic like her mother had been. The school recommended that she talk to Father John at the Catholic church but you could see Mae was so confused by the whole situation that she didn’t know if she was coming or going. This was the one thing she thought was a certainty – despite all the other pressures she was confident Ruby would go to a school that would honour her dead mother’s faith.
I found myself offering to walk to the church with her and to talk to Father John. It was out of my way and I was going to be late for another appointment but something told me this was the right thing to do. We walked the mile to the church together. Two people who had only briefly spoken on the phone before that day. I wondered what on earth we would talk about and even if i was going to help.
I needn’t have worried. We slipped into easy conversation and I was surprised at how quickly we connected. It was the slowest mile I have ever walked – not because the time dragged but because our conversation meant there was no need to hurry. On arriving at the church a Mass was in progress so we waited outside. By this time she had shared her very personal experiences, the history of Ruby (some of which I knew but a lot of which I didn’t) and her current situation and struggles. There was no underlying self pity from her, neither was there a sense of injustice or of being ‘owed’ anything. She told me the ‘warts and all’ situation and – for someone who often feels responsible for everyone – I didn’t feel she was asking anything from me.
Mass finished and we entered the church. Father John was busy so we sat at the front pew and waited. We spoke in hushed tones as she continued her story. She wept silently as she spoke of her fears of not having her visa renewed; of her dreams and hopes for the future. I wiped her tears and I wept too.
Father John met with us and after (briefly) recounting the situation he offered to write a supporting letter for the school application. Mae’s relief was obvious. We needed to complete a set of forms so Mae and I went to the local library and I helped her. When I finally left her I felt such a loss. I wanted to invite this incredible selfless, intelligent, brave, confused and scared woman to come home with me. A ridiculous reality – and I didn’t – but I was acutely aware her worries would be with her over Christmas. She had told me she didn’t want to leave the house during the holiday period.
I couldn’t do any more that day and I haven’t spoken to her since. But I will do when I’m back at work next week. You see, I was with her over Christmas. Not physically, but mentally. I have thought about her and Ruby every day – even fantasised about sending them anonymous monetary gifts in my attempt to seek a way of supporting them to stay together and do more than worry and exist – and she will have no idea how much she touched my heart in those couple of hours we spent together. I just want to see her get a break and have some hope for the future. I have some thoughts about how I might be able to support and I will start some balls rolling next week. She is definitely one of those Angels with Hidden Wings. And her gift to me is allowing me to be touched by her light while feeling I might be able to help her too. I hope.
I’ve noticed my Angels with hidden Wings always have something in common. Despite whatever struggles they’ve had they always seem to exude a deep inner strength that I can’t help but admire. I think that is what I am drawn to. I remain fascinated and awe inspired by the determination and resiliance of the human spirit.
I believe we have all been an Angel to people we have met. We all have gifts to share. It might be the smile you gave someone unthinkingly, the story you told, the attention you gave someone, the joy you shared, the way you handled a situation… the list goes on.
I rarely make resolutions for the new year. I’m rubbish at keeping them so I simply don’t bother. If and when I decide to change something then I just do it as soon as I make the resolve – and that’s at any time of the year. Like everyone else sometimes they last and sometimes they fail. However this year I am promising myself that I will remind people of their light. And I will remind myself of mine. It’s in all of us. It’s so bright. We are all someone’s gift just as much as they are ours.
So I am starting this new years resolution by reminding you. Yes. You. You don’t have to try to be an Angel with Hidden Wings. You already are.
I shall leave you with the famous Marianne Williamson quote:
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?’
I wish you a year full of love and light. I wish you the courage to be who you really are. May many Angels cross your path. I send you my gratitude for already being one. Happy 2014.