February 19, 2018

An Angel of the Lord Appeared Unto Him
by Bernie Pilarski (short, PG-13)
Cover image.
Image credit: Sand Pilarski. More info.

Justin is caught between life and death, Trish is trying to decide if spending the night had been a mistake. Life is never simple and death rarely comes with instructions...

~~~

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"Dude."

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"Hey, Justin."

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"Justin. Everyone in the restaurant is beginning to look."

"What?"

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"What's up with the drum roll on the table?"

"What do you mean?"

"Like you don't notice you're tapping your fork on the table?"

"Sorry."

"Not to mention that I feel like I'm sitting here alone. You haven't even looked at me since we sat down."

"Like I said, sorry."

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"Damn it, Justin. Knock it off."

"What?"

"What is wrong with you?"

"Nothing. Just got a headache is all."

"So, what, you've had a headache all morning or what?"

"No."

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"Jesus, Justin."

"Don't say that, Trish."

"Say what?"

"Jesus."

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"Jesus?"

"Jesus."

"Why not?"

"Because." Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"All right, look. I admit I don't know you all that well, but this seems a little weird, you know?"

Not every relationship is easy, and even the good ones have their rough moments. It is after all difficult to know what a person is like from casual observation and from hearsay. They may be attractive, and first conversations can be clever and inviting, and if the mood is right, the sex is casual but satisfying, but it is the revelations made over time that color the picture, and how one is treated at breakfast is ultimately more important than how one is treated at dinner.

"Yeah," said Justin. "I can see that. Look, I'm sorry. It's just that three days ago I was told that I would be dead in three days."

"Oh my God, what?"

Justin shrugged dismissively and avoided Trish's eyes.

"Did somebody threaten you?"

"No, nothing like that."

"So, what, it's like a medical condition?"

Justin shook his head.

"What the hell, Justin? Is this some kind of joke?"

Justin shifted back and forth in his seat, obviously uncomfortable.

"Three days ago, an angel told me I would die in three days."

Learning about someone, uncovering the little details, can be as exciting as opening gifts, or as satisfying as snapping a puzzle piece in place. Discovery is an appealing aspect of a relationship, and there is never more than in the early, impetuous days. A shared interest in cooking perhaps, a favorite movie, the delicate scent of perfume, the softness of a first kiss, the thrilling first sights as clothes are cast side, there is exhilaration to the novelty and vulnerability of these first encounters even if the outcome is routinely predictable, and when desire is spent and the hormonally addled mind is cleared, phone numbers are exchanged and absence permits a more dispassionate evaluation of events.

This was different.

"An angel?"

"Yeah, it's hard to explain."

"Look, if you don't want to see me again, just say so, don't do some weird shit like this. I can handle getting blown off -- it happens -- but I'd rather not think I spent the night with some psycho, you know?"

"I'm not a psycho." Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"But I am to understand you do talk to angels?"

"Ummm," Justin slowly rolled his head back, looking at the ceiling, then back down at the table, carefully avoiding Trish's stare. "Not usually, but this once, yes."

Human beings have always held that there is a pantheon of celestial beings, creatures different from us in a plane of existence other than our own. Some are great and powerful, others are less consequential and more mischievous. They can be seen as that which gave rise to the universe itself, or be the effluvium of past lives that linger still near the earth. They represent our fears and our hopes, answers to questions too complex to properly ask. They are allegory and myth, but only in the most noble sense of these words, as that which describes the indescribable and proves the unprovable.

It would be easy to dismiss them all as fiction, the tales told to primitive children of primitive parents, and in fact there is an anthropological context that must be considered when looking at the stories of these creatures, for any encounter with them is by its very nature so unusual, so unnatural, that there simply are no words to describe it, and of necessity, descriptions of these encounters tend to be more poetic than precise, more cryptic than clear.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Chinese philosophers tried to describe the Tao, the source of all things:

Look, it cannot be seen - it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard - it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held - it is intangible.
These three are indefinable, they are one.

"So, what, like this angel just came up to you and said, "Dude, you're gonna die?"

"I know what you're thinking."

"I don't think so."

"You're thinking I am totally crazy and you're worried that I might be dangerous."

"Okay. So you do know what I'm thinking."

"Trish ..."

"That's not my real name, just so you know. I'm not dumb enough to give my real name to someone I meet in a bar."

"So what is your name?"

"Let's just go with Trish for now, okay?"

"Fine. Look, I'm not crazy, and you're fine."

"You ready to order, hun?" Both Justin and his date jumped at the sudden appearance of the waitress.

"Trish?"

"I need a little more time to make up my mind," she said.

"No problem, take your time. I'll be back."

"You wouldn't happen to have any aspirin, would you?" Justin asked the waitress.

"No, sorry, hun. You could just order something with hash browns; they're nice and greasy. Always helps me when I've had a little too much to drink."

"Thanks. It's not a hangover, just a headache."

The waitress smiled. "Sure. I'll ask around for some aspirin." She gave Trish a knowing wink as she left.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"So why do think it was an angel?"

"I don't know. It just was."

"What did he look like?"

"It wasn't a him."

"What did she look like?"

"I didn't have the impression that gender had anything to do with it."

"Then what did 'it' look like?"

"It didn't look like anything. It was just there. Its presence just kind of blotted out everything else, so it was just there, you know?"

"So what did it say?"

"Nothing." Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"So how do you know what it said if it didn't say anything?"

"It told me, but there were no words really. Have you ever talked to an angel?"

"Hell no."

"See then? It's not like I can say 'it's like when you talk to an angel ...' It wasn't like anything I've ever done before, and I admit I'm not doing a good job describing it."

"Where were you?"

"In my apartment. I was with this girl ..." Justin paused and looked at Trish to see if that bit of information was going to complicate matters, but she didn't appear to react. "We were in bed and had just smoked some weed, and I got up to go to the kitchen for something to eat, and I got as far as the living room, and boom, like everything totally stops."

"And like you think that it had nothing to do with the smoke?"

"No. Really, no, because it was like, boom, I was straight, you know? That was partly how I knew something was going on. Then there was suddenly no sound at all, and everything in the room kind of drifted away from me, leaving me floating I guess, although I'm not sure that's the right word, but kind of just existing in a space that used to be my living room. So I'm standing there, butt naked, drifting in total silence, with everything frozen almost as if I'm looking at just a screenshot of my apartment instead of actually being there, and I'm suddenly surrounded by a presence, like I'm in a small elevator with six really fat women who are standing too close."

Trish snorted and covered her grin with a hand.

"I don't know how else to describe it. I wasn't being touched, but it was uncomfortable, made my skin crawl and the hairs on my neck stand up, and then it was right in front of my face, like this far ..." he held up his hand with thumb and forefinger nearly touching. "And this thought came to me, like a puff of air, a breath: 'In three days, your life with be forfeit.'"

"'In three days, your life will be forfeit?'"

"Something like that."

"Jesus, and you don't think you might not have been just a little too wasted?"

"Don't say that."

"What?"

"Jesus."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't believe, and you don't know what you're saying."

"Well, excuse me, but I didn't get the impression that it was the sweaty-palmed hands of an altar boy pawing at me last night."

Justin sighed deeply. "Yeah, I haven't been too smooth the last couple of days. The thing with the angel kind of messed up my head and I'm doing stupid stuff, like when things more or less returned to normal in the living room, I went back to the bedroom and told the girl that she had to leave. I didn't give her any reason or anything, just kind of kicked her out. Her name is Trish, oddly enough. We've known each other since college, and I think she thinks we are a couple, you know, but I never intended that. I just never dissuaded her from thinking it, because, well, she was convenient to have around."

"Ouch."

"Yeah, ouch. Not cool, I know, but all I could think of was 'What do I do now?'"

"Get some help, maybe?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, like, go talk to a doctor or something."

"I'm not sick, and I'm not crazy."

"How do you know?"

"I know what happened to me."

"But you are seeing things and hearing things?"

Justin grimaced. "No, I didn't see anything or hear anything, but that's the best way I have to describe what happened to me."

"You can admit, can't you, that that sounds crazy?"

"I know it sounds crazy, but I'm not crazy."

"How can you be sure?"

"Some things just are, you know? They just are."

I believe in one God, begins the Nicene Creed, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. For more than sixteen hundred years, Christian communities have pronounced these words as the foundation of their understanding of the world. Some English translations would say "all things seen and unseen," and there would be no harm in that, but there can be many reasons for things to be unseen. Missing car keys are certainly unseen, although it would be only fancy to believe that they would be invisible, that is, incapable of being seen, and there may be a danger in coming to believe that there is only that which is seen and unseen.

Science roots itself firmly in the world of the seen and unseen. Whereas primitive man may have seen the infirm as attacked by malevolent spirits, Science stripped away the mystery with the creation of the microscope, allowing the unseen and religiously unaffiliated bacteria to be seen by all. It is the discipline of Science that, admirably so, keeps modern man from making erroneous assumptions about that which he does not fully understand, and yet it might be argued that Science is simply the observation of Creation, the study of that which is seen and unseen, and indeed Science is silent in matters of the invisible, of all that by its very nature is immeasurable.

Time is measurable and therefore tangible. It began with the Big Bang, and will end when the last of the energy of the Big Bang drains away and the universe ends, but what was before time, and will be after time, is invisible and ever shall be.

Angels, if they exist, are invisible.

"Do you believe in God?" Justin asked.

"No," the girl they both agreed to call Trish said.

"Why not?"

Trish shrugged. "I don't see any evidence that there is a god. I mean, look around. There are so many religions claiming so many things that god can be pretty much whatever you want, and as far as I can see, it hasn't made a difference in how things turn out. Your football team still loses even if the whole team is praying for a win, you can't win the lottery even if you promise to use the money for good, and people still die even when you don't want them to. The only thing I've seen religion used for is as an excuse for some shriveled old geezer to try to ruin everybody else's fun."

"Oh."

"What 'oh'?"

"Just 'oh.' I mean, I appreciate you being honest, I guess. I can't really argue with you one way or another, even if I disagree. It's like two people seeing a movie and one person hates it, and the other person loves it. It just is, you know?"

"Do you?"

"Do I what? Believe in God?"

"Yeah."

"If you had asked me four days ago, I'd probably have said yes, but thinking about it, I don't know. It's like you said, it's hard to believe in a God who doesn't make a difference. Well, it's hard for me to say I had a belief if it didn't make a difference, and to be honest, I don't know of any difference it made in me."

"Seeing an angel didn't change anything?"

"Oh, hell yeah. There is now no doubt in my mind that God exists."

Time subsists in the timeless. The world of time arose from the timeless, is sustained by it, and seeks to return to it. The creatures of the world of time are irrevocably bound to it, and by their very natures, are incapable of initiating any communication with the timeless. Angels, however, are said to be spiritual beings created by God, to populate the invisible realm outside of time. They see God and act as his agents in his creation. They are granted the ability to enter into time and, if only temporarily, remove the scales from the eyes of humans that they may glimpse the timeless.

"It's like actually seeing a UFO, you know. You may or may not be sure that aliens exist if you've never seen a UFO, but one time being abducted and probed, and there is no doubt in your mind that there is life out there," Justin said.

"You've had that experience too?"

"No, I'm just saying. There are experiences that can confirm a whole lot of beliefs. Once you've seen Cleveland, you just know that Ohio exists, that kind of thing."

Trish simply squinted.

"But," Justin continued, "there is a difference between knowing something and believing in it. All my life I probably would have said I believed in God, but there was nothing I did about that."

"Done? Like what?"

"I don't know. Maybe I would have quit smoking ... or lost some weight."

"That's what you think god would want you to do?"

"Maybe. They say your body's a temple, don't they?"

"So, what, does that make Tom Brady a frickin' saint?"

"I don't know. Maybe. That's been my problem these last three days. I absolutely know what I experienced and I know for sure the message I received, but what am I supposed to do with that? I didn't go to work the day after the angel thing. I stayed home and cleaned my apartment top to bottom, thinking maybe the angel might come back, which of course he didn't. So the next day, I called my sister. We haven't spoken since my mother's funeral eight years ago when I called her husband a dickweed."

"Why would you say that to her?"

"Well he was, but I told my sister that I was out of line that day, that it wasn't my place to tell her that her husband was a dickweed." Justin grimaced, and began to massage his temples with his fingers. "Damn, I wish somebody had some aspirin."

"So if nothing else, this whole experience caused you to patch things up with your sister."

"No, not really. She told me to go screw myself."

"Wow."

"No kidding. I spent the rest of the day thinking, and I began to think that maybe I never did believe in God. There was nothing about my life that was different because of the existence of God. I had done nothing about it, and I had no idea what I should do about it. God was in the same category for me as the Galapagos tortoise: it was there, but otherwise meaningless. If I was Charles Darwin, maybe I would have known what to look for, but to me, it was just a turtle.

"Then I started thinking, what if I was going to be asked to change something I couldn't? Like, aren't there things in your life that you find you just can't avoid?"

"You mean like lemon bars ..."

"Maybe that's it for you."

"You're telling me lemon bars are a sin?"

"Could be, it might depend on what you do with them. Let me ask you, if you're walking down a street and you happen to look over at one of the houses, and in the window of the house you see a good-looking guy taking his clothes off. What do you do?"

"I might take a quick look, but I'd turn away."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. People are entitled to their privacy, and it's not like it's something I haven't seen before."

"Yeah, well, see? That's what I mean. I couldn't help but stare, and what's worse is that every time I'd ever pass that house, I'd have to look again. I wouldn't be able to stop myself."

"So, what, you're into guys?"

"No! I mean if it was a girl in the window."

"Do you stop and play with yourself too?"

"What? No! I'm not a friggin' pervert."

"You're a guy. You're all pretty much perverts. You can't help yourselves."

"I'm not a pervert, but that is pretty much what I'm saying -- I got to the point yesterday where I realized that I had no idea how to deal with the information I'd been given, and even if I wanted to, I'm not sure I was capable of dealing with it."

"What'd you do then?"

"I decided to go the bar and go to bed with the first woman I could."

"Me?"

Justin shrugged.

"Did you at least find me attractive?"

"I guess. It didn't really matter at the time. Sorry."

"You're a pig, Justin."

Once more Justin shrugged. "After you fell asleep, I lay awake for a long time, and I pretty much reached the same conclusion."

Few and fewer reasonable persons believe that angels are more than myth, even in the ranks of those who consider themselves religious. It is easier to think of angels as a product of an earlier, simpler and more naive time, a time when there was no reason to doubt that a remote God existed in a heaven above the sky and the Devil in a hell beneath the Earth. It makes better theater, for example, to have the Christ feed the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, but isn't it more likely, and even more dramatic and to the point of his message, if the five thousand got fed from the generous sharing of resources in a community set aflame by the Christ's message to love one's neighbor?

"So are you still thinking you're going to die?"

"I don't know. I'm thinking it's maybe a more symbolic message. I been thinking a lot recently, even before the angel thing, that I needed to start to actually get serious about things. Maybe take better care of myself, maybe think about the future. I've been a bit of a dick, you know? So maybe it's not literally that I'm going to die, but that the "old Justin" has to move over and let the "new Justin" come out."

"I think you got some bad smoke and just won't admit it."

Then again, if in fact the Christ is God come to earth, the artist entered into his art, The Word made Flesh, then pulling a few loaves and fishes out the hat wouldn't be out of character for him through whom all things, including angels, were made.

"I'm going to see a priest later today and run the whole thing past him," Justin said. As he was finishing his sentence, his left hand went to the center of his forehead, and with the heel of his hand he began to rub his head.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"Good. If he does his job, he'll talk some sense into you and get you some help."

"Maybe," Justin said. His eyes were squeezed shut and he continued to rub his head. "But I don't thing I need hab."

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"Hab. I needle priest hab for it."

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

"What?"

Justin opened his eyes and looked at Trish. There was confusion and desperation in his expression.

"At dum needle past, the flugal hab is wrong."

Tap, tap, tap...

"Justin?"

Justin slumped forward.

"Jesus," Trish said and jumped to her feet. "I need help here," she shouted. "Someone! I need help here!"

"Jesus," she said as people began to murmur and to pull out their phones. "I don't believe this."







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Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.



By Bernie Pilarski:

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An Angel of the Lord Appeared Unto Him -- Bernie Pilarski
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