Here is one of many stories — slightly revised from memory — that my father used to tell. Sometimes we are sent a messenger, unexpected and not from this realm. May you find something here that heals, encourages or helps.
My father had been flying home from one of his many inspirational and spiritual lectures.
He had traveled across the country, speaking to others about the greatness of God and how they, too, as children of God, were born for greatness. Why settle for less?
Because dad was always so open to the Spirit working in him, miracles often happened. People were healed of past emotional hurts and sometimes, physical pain.
As dad settled into his airplane seat, he was exhausted. Perhaps it was that fatigue that made him remember some of his own past hurts. As a first-generation Mexican American, he had worked hard to bring himself up from poverty and to create a successful career in broadcast engineering.
Still, while working at a TV station in South Texas, he remembered a fellow worker, an Anglo, who despised him.
After work one day, with the ruse of talking to him about a problem, he pulled my father into an alley behind the building and started beating my father, breaking some of his ribs.
“This is what we do to filthy Spics,” he screamed at my father.
It took some time, but dad forgave him from his heart. In fact, many of his talks were about forgiveness and how it was essential to our own happiness and well-being to forgive others.
Still, as dad opened that mental door to how he had been treated, other slights began pouring into his thoughts. He had just been lecturing and speaking to hundreds about letting go of the past and giving it to God for healing and there he was, feeling sorry for himself and all he had suffered as a Mexican.
As he sat waiting for the plane to take off, a woman slid in the seat beside him. She was quiet at first, but dad, always interested in hearing people’s stories, began talking to her, asking her questions about her life.
She was an older, attractive woman with a worn face and gentle smile. She told him she was Jewish.
She went on to tell him about the horrific conditions, about the emotional and physical pain — of the relentless hunger and cold.
“But I learned to forgive,” she said. “It saved me. And I prayed — to the one God who loves us all. Prayer is more powerful than people understand.”
They finished their conversation and dad, pondering her words, fell asleep. With the plane mid-flight, he roused to find the woman gone. Perhaps she had gone to the restroom, he reasoned.
When the captain announced the plane was landing, and the woman still had not returned to her seat, dad became concerned.
As they deplaned, he inquired about the woman. The flight attendant said she knew of no such woman — that no one of that description had been on the plane, nor had anyone been seated next to him.
Surely the attendant was mistaken, he thought. He had not made up this woman or the conversation. He insisted she check the restrooms but no one was there. He even waited by the gate — as the last members of the flight crew straggled past him — to see if she still might appear, but she never emerged.
Years later, dad told me he felt she was an angel, someone sent to remind him that no matter how much we suffer, we need to be thankful — for the precious gift of life.
That we can respond to any given situation with love or hate. That we can grow from pains and hurts or we can choose self-pity. That we can rise above our individual and global hurts and with the grace of God, learn to love as God loves.
Did dad really see an angel?
It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the message, one we need to hear again and again, especially in today’s troubled world.
Forgive. Pray. Love.
Yes, most of all — love.