Thursday, December 24, 2009

Three times an angel

During this advent season before western Christmas, I've had three strange and coincidental experiences.

Three weeks ago, a priest of a tiny village found a widowed grandmother to offer me a bed for the night. It was the smallest hovel I've seen. One room, sparsely decorated, with an enclosed stove, an alcove on one side for cooking and another behind for sleeping. The alcoves were separated from the main room with thin curtains. Once the priest left, I tried as much small talk as my Ukrainian vocabulary can manage. She was married in 1943, widowed in 1946, had two sons who have both since died, one grandson who lives in Canada. Sad story, but a jovial lady. Next to the stove, a small cot looked comfortable enough for me, but the woman, Marie, she told me her name, insisted I take her bed on the other side. I tried to decline, but she repeated over and over 'Angel'. I told her my name, the name of the mother of her namesake. That convinced her - I'm an angel come to take her to her husband and sons. Yikes! I'm a pilgrim not an angel. The sounds of her heavy breathing and frequent uses of the chamberbucket during the night at least gave me some assurance that she wouldn't be joining her family before dawn when I'd leave.

The following week, I arrived in a village large enough that I sought to ask someone where I could find the church. The young woman I randomly saw on the street, listened to my story about being a pilgrim and needing to find a place to sleep for the night. She changed her path and took me to the church herself, calling the secretary of the church on her mobile phone as we walked to make arrangements for something to eat as well. She gave me an apple out of her purse and then reached in again for a little money. 'Please light a candle when you arrive at St Andrew's Cathedral in Patras,' she urged. Her sister had recently died in a car accident. I asked her sister's name - Anna. When I told her that was my name, she fell to her knees crying, sobbing into my gloved hands right there in the street. 'You're an angel,' she told me, come to let her know her sister is safely in heaven. Whoa, I'm just a pilgrim.

Last week, during the worst of the blizzard, I finally arrived in a town, unseen in the driven snow, but the smell of coal fires led me in. The tall, elderly woman who was to host me as prearranged by the priest of the last town, was frantic, unsurprisingly, because of the lateness. She stripped me down in front of the stove in the flickering candlelight, expecting me to be drenched through. She has no clue of modern fabrics like Gortex and softshell and was convinced I should be frozen because my clothes are thin, not at all like the thick wools and copious layers of waxed cotton she's familiar with. She reached under my silk camisole and was incredulous that my skin was warm even though I'd been outside all day in the storm. 'You're an angel,' she suddenly smiled. She stood me in a shallow bucket filling it slowly as the water heated on the stove and scrubbed me down (I don't think she knows what freckles are, either, or that they don't come off.) Smiling, repeating, 'an angel, an angel'. Her daughter spoke some French. I asked her what she meant. 'She thinks you're an angel sent from heaven to tell her that she's still needed here at home.' Her husband was dead, as were two of her three children, and the world has changed a lot for her in the recent years. Somehow she connected my improbable arrival, warm and in a snowstorm, with an extended purpose in life.

It's not like these three ladies were telling me 'you're an angel' as if to say 'you're sweet' or 'you're a doll'. They each had an idea in their head and out of the blue, I showed up with some sort of connection to them. Eerie. I'm a pilgrim, not an angel, but if there's something to be gained from the thought of mystical actions usurping my personage for some sort of devine messaging, well, okay. Why not?

Merry (western) Christmas, everyone, and to all a good night.

And a special Christmas greeting to two other winter pilgrims out there - to senior Merideth on her remarkable 6th trek on the Camino de Santiago and rookie Paolo, walking from his home near Rome to his girlfriend at Cambridge along the Via Francigena www.backwardsfrancigena.wordpress.com Ultreia, pilgrims.

7 comments:

The Solitary Walker said...

Another great post... And a very happy Christmas to you too. I'm starting my own winter pilgrimage from Seville in January.

Are you absolutely sure you're not an angel..?

Dan Wright said...

Merry Christmas to you, Anne.

An angel is simply a messenger. I believe you qualify.

backwardsfrancigena said...

merry xmas to you angel ann, i thought and i'll think of you when in need. winter hiking is really good. your example encouraged me more then anything else.

best

Paolo

Ukiefriend said...

Anna, I think you qualify as an angel as you appear out of the cold, white dusk--and what an inspiration you are! Hope you have many more "angel" encounters! I am so glad you beat the terrible ice storms in the region you walked last week! A very happy New Year! Blessings....

Compostelle 2008 said...

Anne,
As Dan Wright said, those three women saw you as a messenger and what better way to live the real spirit of Christmas!
Michèle from Ottawa (On) Canada

ukieartist said...

Wow! You're amazing! What incredible energy and stamina! I get "tired" just walking around a lake or along a creek bed...haha
But, what an experience, what great stories, and what wonderful memories you're making!
Blessings to you and safe journeys in the New Year as you trek towards your final destination...

ukieartist said...

Wow! You are simply amazing!!! And I sometimes get "tired" just walking around a lake or down a creek trail! What incredible energy and stamina you have and what wonderful experiences...
Blessings to you and a very happy and safe New Year as u travel; towards your destination...