The World I Live In
I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway,
what’s wrong with Maybe?
You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.
–Mary Oliver from Felicity
One summer, my sister and I went to Mesa Verde. We arrived in the dark night, driving up the unguarded side of the mesa slowly, so as not to get beyond of the illumination of our headlights. We caught a number of animals in our high beams: a fox , coyote, small furred things we couldn’t name.
In our bare-bones room at the lodge, I tried to relax into the silence but the rustlings of nature outside our window felt hostile in the darkness. I slept fitfully.
In the morning, the sun illuminated our nighttime fears, showing them up as the mirages they had been. Reassured, we went to the commissary and ordered pumpkin pancakes, coffee, crisp bacon. I watched my sister’s face whenever she wasn’t looking. Throughout our lives, she has been a bright light – finding laughter at the moments it is most likely to hide, maintaining a positive view when the rest of us could only see disaster. But that summer, my shining sister was struggling, her inner light shaded by cares. I felt my heart breaking for her because there was nothing else it could do. Nothing I could do.
We chatted as we ate. She told me about her latest interest: angels. She had been using angel cards, had attended some spirituality conferences where a major subgroup of programs had been about making contact with one’s angels, seeking guidance and assistance.
I listened and spoke encouragingly, but inside I was judging. Not because I didn’t believe in angels. But my angels were the “real” ones, from the old-decidedly-not-the-new age. I had learned about my angels in Catholic school: the guardian angel I prayed to every night of my childhood, St. Raphael the archangel, St. Cecilia my confirmation saint. In my mind I envisioned a heavenly cage-match between Sr. Caramel Mary, BVM and Doreen Virtue. The good nun was a mighty force to be reckoned with.
After breakfast, my sister went outside while I used the restroom and poked around in the gift shop. When I walked out into the brilliant sunshine, the high desert heat was already radiating upward in waves. I spotted my sister on a bench, face raised toward the sky, eyes closed. As I approached her, she opened her eyes. “Did you just pass an older couple on your way out the door?” she asked excitedly. Her face was flushed and her eyes held a liveliness they had been missing just minutes before.
“No,” I said. “There was no one, just you.”
“Well,” she said. “You must have passed them because they just walked into the building. Anyway, you won’t believe what they said to me.”
Apparently, my sister had taken a seat on the bench and was just enjoying the sunshine, looking around at the desert and the deep blue sky. An older couple walked toward her from the parking lot, and stopped beside her at the bench.
“Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” asked the man. Then he proceeded to walk toward the park building.
The woman lingered a moment beside the bench where my sister sat. Leaning toward her, the woman spoke. “You’re glowing, you know. That’s always the case when you walk with angels. It shows.” Then she told my sister to have a lovely day and went to join her husband. My sister watched them walk toward the door out of which I emerged moments later, then turned back to contemplating the desert.
“You had to have seen them,” she said to me. “You would have walked right past them.”
But I had seen no one, except my sister sitting alone on the bench outside.
We got in the car, driving the slow park speed limit on our way to see the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is famous. As we rounded a curve, suddenly there were horses. The wild horses of Mesa Verde are also famous, and famously elusive. A park worker had told us, on our arrival the previous night, that he had worked there for three summers and had yet to see them. But within minutes, here we were – surrounded. I stopped the car and we gazed at the lean creatures. They were clearly horses, but unlike the sleek, well-fed beauties we were used to seeing in the midwest. Dark and gaunt, they appeared a wholly different breed. Otherworldly, even. I made eye contact with the one nearest my window.
You only see, its dark stare seemed to say, what you believe you’ll see.