My belief in angels goes all the way back to my childhood in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia.
I’m not too surprised. My mother was a Pilgrim Holiness minister, and she had read both the Old Testament and the New Testament more than thirty times. She was well versed in the text and the context surrounding the 273 references to angels in the King James Bible.
She anchored me squarely and securely to my belief in angels, and it has lingered with me and has fascinated me throughout my life.
Angels are acknowledged, of course, in many of the world’s major religions, aside from Christianity. They figure prominently in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, as well as in belief systems such as New Age Spirituality.
And I am not alone in my belief. Some polls show that nearly 80% of Americans believe that angels are real, year-round, ethereal beings. Among Americans who attend weekly religious services, the belief jumps to 94%, and among Evangelical Christians, it edges up to 95%.
Angels are messengers who comfort, protect, provide unconditional love, and serve others. Some are earth angels. Sensitive souls, lending the helping hand even before the cry for help can be heard. Seeing the good in those who might not see it in themselves. Feeling pain when others hurt. Possessing an aura that makes others confide and trust. Encouraging the discouraged. Turning to nature for quiet, for renewal.
My belief in angels is strengthened by personal experience. My life was blessed by an earth angel for twenty years, all the way up until his death a year ago today.
I knew that Allen was an angel from the moment that he won my heart, from the moment that I won his. We knew that we had each met our soulmate, that we had each found our way home.
I told him so on the spot, right then, right there. He smiled with an angelic smile that only he could smile: coy and twinkly-eyed, all angel like.
As we came to know one another better, I was even more convinced, so much so that I promised to one day write an essay about him as the angel in my life. “I hope that you will,” he beamed, giving me what was by then the angelic, twinkly-eyed smile that was his signature smile that I so adored.
Ironically, when Allen died, I had never gotten around to writing that promised angel essay.
To be certain, it was not because of any waning conviction that an earth angel had entered my life with perfect timing, as angels always do.
Looking back, I think that it was simply because, rather than write the essay, we chose to live it jointly in every dimension of our earthly life together, side by side. Partners. Lovers. Friends. Hikers. Cyclists. Chefs. Gardeners. Educators.
Obviously, we lived it separately as well. Allen was an incredible human being, accepting of whatever life offered. No moans. No groans. No complaints. He knew the power of surrender. He knew the power of acceptance.
Like all earth angels, Allen loved serving others, helping others, and healing others. As a Surgical Technologist, he was a passionate practitioner not only in multiple hospital settings where he distinguished himself but also at the colleges whose Surgical Technology Programs he directed.
Like all earth angels, his aura inspired in his patients and his students confidence and trust.
At our end-of-day, before-dinner cocktail conversations, Allen was always at his angelic best as he talked about his challenging surgeries or about his precepting experiences. Always at those moments, I could count on seeing his angelic, twinkly-eyed smile.
Like all earth angels, Allen gave unconditional love, and his unconditional love met with the same from me. During our life together, we learned the value of affirming our mutual love. Whenever we went our separate ways throughout the day and always at bedtime, we made a point of saying, “I love you.” Without fail. “I love you.” We wanted those three words to be the last thing that we heard. And indeed, “I love you” was the last thing that each of us said to the other, just minutes before Allen died.
Like all earth angels, Allen turned to nature–to gardening–for quiet renewal. He helped turn a mountaintop wilderness into a coveted botanical oasis for the two of us. Always true to himself and his beliefs, he took greatest joy in watching small, undernourished—and sometimes unwanted—plants thrive and flourish under his care, against all odds, against all wishes. Perhaps even greater was the perpetual joy that he derived from the ever-so-constant, ever-so-required, and ever-so-faithful maintenance of our gardens, spending hours and hours and hours on end—with great satisfaction—pulling weed after weed after weed, fervently and constantly, up by the roots, one by one by one.
Little wonder that when I started to write Allen’s obituary a year ago, it was as if angel wings brushed across the page, just as magically as Allen had brushed across and touched our lives together.
Immediately, I knew that I would anchor his obituary to angels. It began with: “A kind, gentle, and angelic soul—ever so quiet and ever so reserved but ever so full of life and light and ever so much loved by all who knew him personally and professionally is with us no more.”
Little wonder that I ended his obituary with: “Now, Allen gardens forever and forever and forever with angels.”
But obituaries are not the final word.
And death is not the end.
Twenty one years after my promise, I’m actually writing the essay honoring my angel–Patrick Allen Duff.
And as I honor him, he’s right here by my side, always, giving me back his coy, twinkly-eyed, angelic smile, once more and forever.