The person who first taught me about angels taking themselves lightly kept a sign on her cubby stating that the heavenly beings could only fly because they did. Take themselves lightly, that is. Though I haven’t seen the sign or the person in 44 years, both so impressed me that I can picture them still.
The girl was called Maureen. We met as work-study students in the Financial Aids Office at St. Louis University. She had bouncy black hair, pale skin, and deep green eyes. She entered laughing every time she came to work. Her bubbling trill preceded her into the doorway. She strode everywhere with an easy gait, lightly swinging her handbag from her wrist.
On a particularly sweet day, she nearly doubled over with that mild hysteria displayed by the truly happy. You won’t believe what just happened to me, she crowed. We thought we would, but let her go ahead because she told every delightful story with such sweet delirium that our respective and collective days could be saved just by listening.
A man walked up to me and asked what time it was, she explained, holding her sides, giggling. She gestured to the dainty watch on her wrist. But I had just lost my contact lens, she continued. In those days, we jammed hard little plastic disks into our eyes in vain hopes of not being girls who wore glasses. And I had found it and put it in my mouth to keep it damp til I could get to the car and my cleaning solution. So I couldn’t open my mouth to tell him the time, but I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I just stared at him.
She had worked herself to a lovely howl. We all laughed along with her, though nothing had yet struck us as particularly funny except for the delicious way that Maureen cracked herself up.
She stopped to catch her breath. We waited for the punch line.
Then he looked at me in a pitying tone of voice and said, ‘I can ask you an easier question if you like.’ And Maureen really lost it then.
As did we.
Yesterday I thought about Maureen while I lay face down on the driveway, at 8:00 p.m. with my phone in the cupholder of my running Prius. The bag of groceries sprawled in front of me. My computer bag sat in the mud of my neighbor’s front yard. Blood spurted over the pretty purple scarf that Jennie Taggart Wandfluh gave me for Christmas. The happy glow from my Rotary meeting and the following encounter with a neighbor at the Market dissipated as I tried to figure out how to get my body off the ground with no handhold.
And for some reason, no reason really, right after I had finished fretting about how I would tell Judge Chamberlain that I couldn’t come to court because I had smashed my face and was too embarrassed to venture out of the house — right after that, I thought about Maureen.
Suddenly the tide turned. The scales tipped in the general direction of the not-so-bad-after-all. I scooted myself over to the car and used the side-view mirror as a handhold to hoist myself onto my lily-white-spastic-feet. For a long moment, I stood — just stood — trying to remember Maureen’s last name. I thought about her sign, the one which told me that angels could fly because they take themselves lightly. I figured that I’d have another bleak moment over this latest mishap — and I did, standing in a warm shower letting the water wash the gravel from my face. But there, in the dark, I felt a sudden sense of the impossible becoming possible after all.
It’s the twenty-seventh day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining. With special thanks to Trish Hughes for buying lunch and making me laugh so much it hurt, I note this, now: I’m taking myself lightly and hoping to fly. Life continues.