by Linda Conklin
I was driving. It was midnight. I was lost. Suddenly I heard a load noise and I was blind. Everything was white. An hour, or maybe a minute later I reached out and touched white and it resisted, then quickly became soft like a cloud. It folded and dropped. The air smelled burnt.
Understanding dawned: airbag smoke. An accident? I lowered the automatic windows to let smoke out and warm air in. I thought, “Don’t be afraid.”
Then an angel appeared, next to my window. She was dressed in white, with a white scarf across her throat and down her back, rather like folded wings. She spoke in a soft voice. “Are you OK?” Yes. “Are you drunk?” No. “High?” No. “Can you drive?” Yes. “You must leave now.” What?! — I’m lost.
“Listen you must roll up your windows. Can you do that?” Confused, I fumbled for controls in the unfamiliar rental car, noticing young men gathering around the passenger side. Though thinking rolling up the window might appear rude to them, I did as I was told. I was no longer a professional woman in control of her life. I was a middle-aged woman-child in a strange city at night in a scary situation. I was vulnerable; at the mercy of strangers.
“Your back window is down. Roll it up!” she commanded. She raised her voice, “Nothing for you to see. Everyone’s all right. I’m handling this.” She asked where I was going; I gave the hotel’s name.
She turned to a shadow who looked like he wanted to escape. “He’ll give you directions”. From the other side came, “Hey lady, I can tell you how to get there.” She said, “Don’t listen to them.”
To them, she said “I’m taking care of her, you don’t need to hang around. There’s nothing to see.” Her escort nervously gave me directions. She made me repeat them. Then, “If you can drive, go! Now!” I thanked her and went!
Finally in my hotel room, I began to shake. Was I really in danger? She and her companion believed so. She put herself at risk to help me, a stranger. And by confronting the young men, made herself the focus of attention instead of me. How easy it would have been for her to look the other way, watch from the sidewalk or call 911, tell herself she’d done her part and walk away. What courage it took to confront the men she obviously regarded as dangerous.
I think of her as an angel. That thought struck me when I saw her next to me in her white dress. But I know she’s more than an angel, she’s an extraordinary woman of courage, who put herself in danger for a complete stranger.
I often wonder if I can measure up to the standard she has set, if I’m called upon to be an angel for someone else. I can only hope that the memory of her courage will be enough.