Angels in Disguise

By Mike Johnson

You never forget them.

Perhaps they're cousins. Coaches. Seat mates on a plane. Or an old boss, co-worker or high school teacher. Call them what you like, they share the same title.

They're angels in disguise.

Somehow, for some reason, these angels see something special behind your eyes. They single you out -- giving more time, more instruction, more encouragement -- reminding you of something you'd forgotten or refused to believe in the first place.

How great you really are.

You see angels everywhere, once you've developed the vision. Usually, they arrive just when you need them most, delivering the words you most need to hear.

"You have priceless talents. Respect them. Develop them. Use them. No one else can provide them as uniquely as you."

Angels promote a great truth -- encouragement lasts forever.

Because they see your best traits and reflect them back to you, angels make you feel better about you when you're around them. So your life changes for the better, you thank them profusely, they flit off to some new assignment, and you're left savoring their pleasant memory. A nice, clean experience.

But sometimes, when the teacher is ready but the student is not, angels speak languages packaged in time release capsules, dissolving months -- or even years later -- surprise-turned-to goose bumps as they erupt into understanding.

When you're an 11th grade creative writer, you haven't yet learned about angels. Or priceless talents. Or words you won't understand for years. They compete with 50 other things you're trying to sort out. Like girls. Or geometry. Or that part-time job.

"Writing? Yea, yea, yea. It's fun and all, but what's for lunch? Who's playing the Twins tonight? Did Nancy come to school today?"

So when writing instructor Trudy Grimes gasps for air from your latest chuckle-ache induced poem, or shares your submission with the entire class as a sparkling example of word play, or uses her red felt-tip to write lengthy, elegant letters of compliment while the other kids are getting chicken-scratched grammatical corrections, you fail to see the significance.

"I'll place a small bet that notes to your milkman and yes, even your geometry problems must rhyme!! I mean, can you say anything that doesn't rhyme? Really, Mike, your innate sound skills are exceptional. You are a fortunate fellow. I hope you'll write and write and write!" - T. Grimes

But instead of writing, you skip a few classes. Miss some homework assignments. And watch the pain of disappointment cross her face after reading your hastily-prepared work, amplified by her sweeping red reply.

"I honestly don't know what to say. I carefully screened the advanced class, I had faith in you. I would like to restore that faith. No one can make you write anymore than anyone could make you fall in love or make you earn a college degree. It's your baby. I happen to see in you one of the most enjoyable abilities with humor since I've begun teaching (Lord knows that's a long time!). You are clever, perceptive and you handle words well. You are also a lazy rascal at this point. Does this matter? 'All that is necessary for the forces of evil to take over the world is for enough good men to do nothing.' I hope you care about Mike's talent. I really do." -T. Grimes

Ouch.

Years later, you read these notes and realize how insensitively you treated them -- precious gems tossed haphazardly into the same folder with math tests, book reports and class schedules.

And worse, what you didn't realize at the time, was that her disappointed face, and her powerful letter, were busy imprinting themselves as the very last memory you'd ever have of her.

Years later, Trudy's messages finally erupt in your head -- you publish a book, syndicate a column, write for magazines, start a newspaper. She was right! Writing WAS my talent. How did she see it so many years before I?

Filled with awe and gratitude from her gift across the years, you seek to reconnect -- to say in words what is felt in hearts. Show her recent work proving her faith wasn't misplaced. See her smile, make her laugh -- just one more time.

But alas, your angel is long gone, never properly thanked.

So, you do what you can. Appreciate other angels who drop into your life. Strive to be one yourself now and then. Write about them in columns.

And then, researching Trudy's notes, you discover one more, long forgotten written comment. The last you'd ever received.

"I knew all along you had a good conscience, Michael. I hope -- now that you're in gear -- you'll keep writing. Your talent deserves it..." -T. Grimes

And then you grasp the depth of Trudy's timeless messages.

Present or not, she's no longer sharing writing lessons.

She's sharing angel lessons.

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