The first angel I ever met grabbed my 20-year-old self out of the nothingness and tried to teach her how to write. He improved my prose just fine if that’s the story you want to hear, but his lessons on thriving affected me more. His cerebral palsy made his body all but useless. He typed with the eraser end of a pencil, one small key at a time, shaking, pecking out all the wrong letters, deleting, starting again. It was agonisingly slow work, but he was determined to be a writer anyway, so that’s what he became. He wrote novels and collections. He won prizes and honorary doctorates, but most of his time was dedicated to mentoring people like me.
Lionel taught me that even if you pecked out all the wrong letters, you could fill a page if you just kept moving. He also taught me that joy could rise to the top of the darkest hell, so I spent the rest of my life trying to find it. Like Lionel, I can’t have garden variety happiness but, like him, I kept looking for the kind I could have.
And sure as the sunrise, I found it.
I’ve met many angels since then—people who cared for my mother as she died, who saw me through the years of grief that followed, who taught me what I needed to know to become the healthy, happy person I am today. I’ve met angels who risked their lives to save those of others, and they all had one thing in common: they let their beliefs and morals guide them, to hell with their detractors.
It’s difficult to explain the need for angels. Some people have never been close to death, much less ill health. Never having suffered, they believe problems are like a year of unemployment, the resale of a home, the destruction of a marriage. Never having experienced trauma, they can’t understand why those who have struggle so much. They must just be weak. They must have a victim mentality. They must expect too much of the world.
Sometimes I think the worst evil in this world is ignorance. It can obliterate its own empathy six times before breakfast, and I’ve seen the tears that causes in those who do need angels.
I see that attitude play itself out online much more than in the real world. If you speak of trauma, you must be a perpetual victim. If you suffer after a rape, you must be weak. If you have a mental illness, you’re irrelevant. It’s sickening and despicable and immoral. It also undoes much of the compassion people try to spread.
Lionel taught me that even if you pecked out all the wrong letters, you could fill a page if you just kept moving. He also taught me that compassion could rise to the top of the darkest hell; that even if the obstacles made our work harder, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. If we let our beliefs and morals guide us, the sun will rise. The smog will clear. We will overcome.