Just a few more minutes and school would be over for the day.
I packed up my books and straightened my uniform, the same one worn by every girl at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in St. Louis, Missouri. Finally the bell rang. “Bye, Sister,” I called as I passed her at the door.
I followed the crowd down the hall, jostled and carried along to the front door. Once outside I ran down the steps and over to the church, where I waited for my father to pick me up.
Inside it was quiet and peaceful. Statues of the angels looked down on me as I genuflected and made my way to the little chapel that was my favorite spot in the church. There hung the picture of two little children crossing a bridge. A beautiful blond angel watched over them, keeping them safe.
I knew the world held more magic and mystery than people could ever imagine, but this guardian angel somehow made it all real to me.
I recited the prayer Sister had taught us: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”
The nuns said every child had a guardian angel, but sometimes I wondered if that really applied to girls like me. Girls who weren’t white like the nuns at Blessed Sacrament and the little boy and girl in the picture.
I was only in first grade back in 1959, but I knew black people and white people weren’t considered equal by some. I heard my parents talk about it when they thought I wasn’t listening.
I’d even heard adults claim there were two separate heavens, one for white people and one for black people. God, they said, lived in the white heaven.
The angel in the painting looked so kind and loving, but she was looking after white children. Why would God bother sending an angel down from white heaven to look after me?
Because he’s God, something in me said. I remembered all the things I’d been taught at church every Sunday with my family. “God is love,” the priest had said just last week. Sister had said the same thing a hundred times. “God created all of us.”
Why would God create me and not love me? I thought. In fact, why would God have created so many different people in the world who looked so many different ways if he only liked one kind of people?
I looked up at the picture again. The joy and courage the angel always gave me came flooding back. Maybe I didn’t have all the paintings and statues that white children had to prove that they had guardian angels, but I believed I had one all the same.
Maybe black children had to have a little more faith. “Thank you, God, for my life and for my guardian angel,” I said.
A car horn from outside broke me out of my reverie. I grabbed my books and dashed to the church door. When I got to the front steps, the strangest feeling came over me. It was like being engulfed in a presence, like a sacred mist. I’d never felt so peaceful or serene, even inside the little chapel.
I saw Dad behind the wheel of the car, but he was looking at something other than me. Even after I reached him he continued looking beyond me. I glanced back, but there was nothing there. I didn’t want to disturb my peaceful feeling by asking a lot of questions.
I got in. Neither of us said a word all the way home.
I was doing my homework in the living room when Dad said he wanted to talk. He sat down next to me and seemed to be struggling for words. He held my hand and took a deep breath.
“When you came down the church steps today,” he said, “I saw someone behind you. A tall, glowing lady with…” He hesitated. “A glowing bronze lady with huge wings!”
I gasped. My pencil rolled to the floor. “Wings?” I whispered.
“She was radiant,” Dad continued, his voice going soft. “So radiant and beautiful I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I could feel her incredible love for you pouring into me. I know I saw your guardian angel.”
I didn’t know what to say. Dad looked me right in the eye like what he was saying was the most important thing in the world. “You will always be protected by God and his angels,” he said. “I want you to remember that always.”
I flung myself into his arms. I did have my own guardian angel as beautiful as the one in the picture in the chapel. Never again would I wonder if God cared enough to send one just for me. My God, our God, who lives in one heaven for us all.
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