“People will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~~ Maya Angelou

Hi all,

Happy Independence Day and belated Canada Day wishes!
Okay, so this wasn't at all what I intended to write this week.  That seems to be becoming my mantra, though!  I think it's probly a good thing, however, to still get random inspiration so often about a TV character last seen in 2003.  :-) 
As Independence Day approached, I found myself thinking about the bits of history that have unfolded during my own life.  I ended up thinking back on some pretty vivid memories of my grade school during Desert Storm.  So those memories prompted this story though this isn't at all based on a real occurrence.  Although I guess ya never know, do ya? 
In any case, this is also my first entry in a new feature that (at least for now) I'm calling "Brushes with Andrew."  I got to thinking how, with Dyeland, many things have aligned in such a way that there may have been moments in the past when Andrew and one of the Dyelanders or Sibling Citiers were so tantalizingly close (i.e. Mick served in WWII, Andrew was very active on the war front) and, of course, they didn't realize it. 
This is one such story of Andrew being only one degree away from a future friend yet right where he needed to be to deliver a message of love in a time of war.
God bless,
The Chaplain

September 1990
Eleanor Fitzgerald glanced at the clock.  2:45.  In half an hour the final subject of the day would be finished, the week would end, and she would be off... off to say good bye.  Tears sprung to her eyes but she quickly brushed them away, not wanting to alarm her students at the small, Catholic grade school where she was teaching for a third year.  She had become adept at throwing on a calm mask in the weeks since her husband, Ian, had went to a far-off military base to prepare for deployment.
The rattled teacher was grateful that at least the final class was religion.  That period usually went smoothly enough.  In third grade, religion class meant sharing a Bible story, fielding a few questions, offering up a few prayers, and then settling the children down with a ridiculously anachronistic image of Christ to color.  Of course, not even a realistic depiction would have ended the day that way.  The Lord inevitably ended up with neon pink skin or a polka dot robe.  Eleanor was convinced He didn't mind.  Who wouldn't reach for the most vibrant Crayola crayons when they spent the bulk of their days in staid, blue and white uniforms?
Of course, there was the splash of color augmenting many of their white shirts: the flag pins in red, white, and blue with a yellow ribbon backing them.  Eleanor swallowed a lump in her throat as she surveyed the room.  Each pin seemed to call out the message that ran through her own mind: "Come home, come home, come home..."  She stooped behind her desk, pretending to look through a drawer as she drew in deep, calming breaths. 
"Alright, children, clear your desks," she directed after regaining her composure and moving to her feet.  "I want you to listen to me as I tell you a very important story."   She gave a stern look to a boy who continued to doodle.  With a sigh, the boy put his crayon and paper away and directed his attention to the teacher.  Satisfied, Eleanor took up the classroom Bible and began to read about an angel's dramatic appearance to St. Joseph, warning him to flee Bethlehem with his wife and child. 
"You see, kids, just as God sent an angel to protect Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus; so He also sends angels to protect you and help you.  In fact, each of you has a guardian angel.  Do you remember our prayer to our guardian angels?" Eleanor prodded hopefully.  She'd tried her best to teach them a variety of prayers and hoped they'd stuck. 
Twenty heads solemnly nodded back.
"Let's say it now, okay?" 
"'Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here.  Ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.  Amen,'" twenty one voices prayed in unison.
"Very good!" Eleanor praised.  The children beamed.  "So does anyone have any questions about our story?"
The teacher patiently and creatively fielded several questions, delicately sidestepping the more sobering aspects of the story of the Flight from Egypt.  There were fewer questions than usual and Eleanor moved onto the next segment: the prayers.

They went around the room, some children petitioning prayers for sick grandparents or frenzied parents.  Together they prayed the "Our Father" and then came an addition that was only a few weeks old.
"Would anyone like to lead our prayer for the troops today?" Eleanor asked, desperately hoping one of the children would.  She couldn't trust herself to keep the building tremor out of her voice.  To her relief, a girl raised her hand.  "Thank you, Molly.  Go ahead."
The little girl crossed herself, her teacher and fellow students following suit.  "Dear God," she began, "please protect all of our soldiers and help the good people in Iraq and Kuwait so they don't get hurt.  And please be with the soldiers' moms and dads and other family.  And their friends.  And help em to know there are angels with them.  And please bring the soldiers home soon.  Amen."
"Amen," a chorus of childish voices and one wavering adult's echoed.
With the prayer finished, Eleanor gratefully seized upon the stack of coloring book pages.  While passing them out she noticed one of her quieter students seemed to want to ask a question but hesitated.  Once finished, Eleanor approached the small girl who was nervously twirling a ring about her finger.
"JenniAnn?" Eleanor encouraged, "you look like you have something on your mind.  Do you have a question ?"
The little girl's face reddened at the attention but she nodded.

"Well, would you like to ask it?  Maybe I can answer.  It is my job to answer questions, after all.  And yours to ask them," Eleanor gently prodded with a kind smile.  She was forever trying to break the girl from her shell and hoped that would do the trick.
"Well..."  The child seemed to struggle with herself as to whether her query was worth bringing up.  After a few moments, she settled in the affirmative.  "There are angels watching over the soldiers, right, Mrs. Fitzgerald?"

Eleanor smiled brightly.  "Yes, I'm sure there are.  Angels watch over everyone, remember?"
JenniAnn nodded vigorously but then looked curiously at her teacher.  "So... who watches over the angels?"
Eleanor blinked.  She wasn't entirely sure where this conversation was going.  "Well, God watches over them.  He created them so He cares for them."
"Can they see Him when they're on Earth?"
Eleanor began to feel a bit ill-at-ease.  She was no theologian!  "I'm not really sure but maybe," she responded, hoping that would satisfy her student.
"I just think... it must be sad to see war."  JenniAnn continued.  "For anyone.  Even angels."
The directness and even the touch of desperation in the normally placid child's face alarmed Eleanor and hit the part of herself she was trying to keep in check.  Before she could say anything, the child continued.
"My mom says we can help the soldiers by writing them letters and sending them packages and wearing ribbons to show we miss them.  So we do and I hope they know we care about them.  Mom also says the angels are helping them, too.  But if people help us, aren't we supposed to help them back?  Do we ever get to help the angels back?" JenniAnn implored.

Eleanor calmed.  It made a certain sort of sense that JenniAnn would ask such questions.  Young children were very attuned to the ideals of fairness and reciprocity.  The teacher could handle questions of manners much more easily than she could plumb the mysteries of the universe.  "Well...  Maybe the angels get some of those letters and packages, too."  She hoped that would suffice.
JenniAnn nodded and directed her attention to her crayons.
To Eleanor it was obvious the girl was not content with the answer but had drawn back into her shell.  Patting her hair, Eleanor left her to her drawing.
Five minutes later, the bell rang and the students rushed out.  Their teacher was left alone to brace herself for what was to come: a journey to see her husband and bid him farewell.
Eleanor sat in the terminal of Omaha's airport, anxious.  She had driven as fast as was legal from the school only to discover her flight was delayed.  A precious hour had been stolen from her already.  With little else to do, she found herself mentally going through the events of the day. 
There had been the staff meeting.  She smiled as she recalled all the well wishes from her co-workers.  Morning classes had gone well.  Lunch duty had passed with little of note except a minor fight at the fourth grade boys' table.  Then math, then science, her break while the children were at gym class, and, finally, religion class.  As an exercise in distraction, Eleanor found herself thinking over JenniAnn's questions.  She felt a little guilty when she realized it had never occurred to her to want to do anything for an angel.  She had grown up Catholic, praying the same prayer she taught her students.  She'd always taken for granted that an angel watched over her.  But she realized she couldn't remember a single time she'd whispered so much as a thank you. 
The woman was startled out of her musings by a man taking a seat three chairs away from her.  She looked up and noticed he was wearing a khaki uniform.  As she stared, he caught her eye.
"Hi," he greeted with a warm smile.
Eleanor blushed as she realized she'd been caught.  "Hi.  Umm, sorry I was staring.  My... my husband, Ian, is shipping out Monday and seeing your uniform...  I guess it made me think of him.  You see, I'm going to see him but my flight's been delayed and I'm worried it will be again and... and..."  She shook her head and brushed at wayward tears.  "I'm sorry, my name's Eleanor."  She forced a smile.
The stranger held out his hand.  "Andrew.  And there's no need to apologize.  I understand."
Eleanor took his hand and for the first time looked into his eyes.  She felt instantly that he did understand.  "Have you been over there?" she asked.
Andrew nodded.  "Yes and I'll be going back."
"Is it... what's it like over there?  I mean... if you think you can talk about it."
Andrew shifted nearer, leaving only one chair between them.  He sighed.  "It's difficult.  But it's also very rewarding.  I'm a chaplain so it means a lot to me to bring comfort to men and women who are giving so much for their country and the good of others.  It's an honor."
Eleanor wanted to ask more pressing questions but didn't want to force the chaplain to relive painful memories nor was she entirely sure she could handle hearing them.  She returned to the topic that she had been stewing over when Andrew had approached.  "So... as a chaplain, can I ask you something?  It may sound strange."
Andrew chuckled.  "Sure.  I'm all for strange questions.  It's a great way to pass the time while waiting for a plane."
Eleanor beamed at him, appreciative.  "You see, I'm a third grade teacher at a Catholic school near here so we've been praying for the soldiers and the people of Iraq and Kuwait," she began.
"I think that's great."
"Yeah.  So today we were learning about the angel's appearance to Joseph in Bethlehem so the little girl who offered our prayer today prayed that the soldiers know angels were with them."
"I hope they always know they're not alone."
Eleanor nodded.  "Me too.  But then another little girl asked me a question I wasn't sure how to answer.  She wanted to know how we could help angels.  She seemed very determined about it.  We teach the kids to be considerate and to return kindness with kindness.  And I can't think of anything much kinder than spending your days watching over and protecting someone!  So how would you answer that?  I mean supposing angels were real.  I believe in them but if you don't then... hypothetically?"  Eleanor wondered at the enigmatic grin that crossed Andrew's face at her last words.
"Oh... I believe in angels, alright," he assured her with a smile.  "It sounds like you've got your hands full with that little one but I think it's great when kids ask questions."
Eleanor shrugged.  "She's generally very quiet, not much of a handful at all.  I guess that's why the intensity with which she asked me got under my skin a little.  And she also seemed a little distressed by the possibility that seeing war would make them sad.  How do you respond to that?  I'm not an angel!  I have no idea how they feel!"
Andrew's eyes clouded for a moment.  Unbeknownst to his new acquaintance, his mind was wandering back over wars long past and some more recent.  But in another moment the trouble was gone from his eyes and he looked over at the teacher.  "I think, if I were you, I would tell her that, yes, sometimes angels do get sad because they feel so much love for people and don't like to see them hurt.  But they also see so many beautiful things.  They see immense bravery and unselfishness.  They see friendships grow between the men and women serving together and the joy of those who are being helped.  And the whole time they know that, no matter how things look, the Father is always in control.  Always.  And He loves them and He loves their assignments."
Eleanor raised an eye brow at his use of the word "assignments" but let it pass without remark.  The rest of what Andrew said made so much sense and touched her deeply.  Not only did it give her an ideal answer for JenniAnn, but it cheered her to think that at every victory and every heartbreak an angel would be beside her husband.  Tears of joy came to her eyes and she couldn't keep herself from scooting over and hugging the chaplain.  "Thank you, I will tell her that."
Andrew returned the woman's hug.  "Good and as for her other question, I would remind the little girl that angels can be every where.  Just like it says in the Bible.  If you say thank you to a stranger who is kind to you or hug someone who you appreciate, you never know, maybe you just hugged or thanked an angel.  And maybe, every so often, an angel meets a human and the two have a talk.  Maybe that talk helps the angel as much as the human."
Eleanor smiled at the tenderly worded rendition of Hebrews 13:2.  "That's perfect.  Thank you, Andrew.  I'll tell her that, too."
"Good.  I hope the answers help her.  That's an awful lot for a little kid to have on her mind.  But now, I think maybe her teacher has something on her mind, too." 
Eleanor studied the man's face.  Immense compassion shown from his eyes.  She knew he wasn't asking out of some requirement to represent the army well.  He seemed genuinely concerned.  "I just... I feel such fear and such sadness.  My husband is going to Kuwait and I'm so afraid he won't come back and... and..."
Andrew noticed when her right hand settled on her belly.  He set a gentle hand on her shoulder.  "Go on, Eleanor, I'm listening."
"I, well... I'm pregnant.  I'm going to tell Ian.  And I keep thinking that if he doesn't come home... for this baby not to know his or her father..."  Eleanor broke down into sobs.  "I'm... I'm so... so afraid he won't come home, Andrew."
The chaplain pulled the woman into another hug.  He wished with all his heart that he could tell her Ian would be fine.  He wanted to assure her that they would welcome their tiny miracle together.  But Andrew didn't know.  All he knew was that it wasn't his job to offer such promises.  He could only tell her words that he knew were true.  "Eleanor, let me tell you something.  Every soldier comes home.  Some come home to the families they left behind.  And others..."  Andrew closed his eyes for a moment.  "Others come Home to their Father in Heaven.  And from there they continue to watch over and love their families.  Forever.  No matter what happens, Ian will know and love this little one so, so much.  And he'll love you, too.  And God will never, ever leave any of you."
Eleanor held tightly to Andrew, hoping to draw his apparent certainty to herself.  "Thank you," she murmured. 
A voice echoed through out the terminal, announcing the impending departure of Eleanor's flight.  She gasped, pulled away from Andrew, and stood up.
"Th-that's my flight!" she cried, madly brushing at tears and smoothing her skirt.
Andrew smiled at her, also moving to his feet.  "I hope you have a safe journey, Eleanor, and that you enjoy these two days with your husband.  I'm sure Ian will be overjoyed with the news."
Eleanor's face lit up and she nodded enthusiastically.  "I know he will!"  She grabbed her purse and then turned once more to the man who had kept her company.  "Thank you, Andrew, for listening to me and for your counsel.  It means... it means so much to me."  She hugged him again.  "Thank you," she repeated.  "Are you going back soon?"
Andrew nodded.  "Yeah."
"I'll pray for you, Andrew.  I'm sure you're a great comfort to everyone over there.  Maybe... maybe one day you'll meet Ian."
Andrew smiled.  "I hope so."  He squeezed the woman's hand.  "Take care, Eleanor."
Eleanor nodded, strangely pained to leave him.  But her love for her husband propelled her towards the departure gate.  She turned back once to smile at Andrew but the chair he had occupied was empty.  She offered up a silent prayer to God in gratitude for the calming words and presence of the man of God.
Andrew perched in a tree near the airport, unseen.  He smiled as the plane carrying Eleanor began to taxi.  He knew she must be feeling more at peace, knowing she was only a few, predictable hours from her husband.  He prayed that their reunion be as joyful as possible and their parting as short in duration as could be.
As he watched the plane pick up speed, the angel of death recalled how he had wondered when the Father had transported him from the Gulf to a terminal in the middle of the U.S.  Now the angel understood.  He had been sent to comfort Eleanor, that much was for sure.  But he had to wonder if the Father's purpose had been multifold.  It often was.  In comforting Eleanor, Andrew had been touched not only by her gratitude but also the prayerfulness of a group of children a world away from the war and the concern for his kind held by one of those children.  He wished he could tell that unknown child that *her* kind had helped him that day in the person of her teacher.  The knowledge of her wish to help and the memory of Eleanor's hugs and words of thanks mixed with the ever-present sense of his Father's love and heartened Andrew.  He carried that warmth with him as the plane took off and he returned to the Gulf to continue to carry the message of God's love in the midst of war.

The End


JABB 304

(Photo Credits: The photographs used on this page are from "Touched by an Angel" and owned by CBS Productions, Caroline Productions, and Moon Water Productions.  They are not being used to seek profit.)