“Angels do not have wings,” she said, in gentle rebuke of my question. We had been speaking since the pre-dawn hours when she approached me from the far end of the desolate beach. In the half-light she was the color of faded copper, as an incidental star cast its light upon her fleetingly as if to betray her. Her hair, black and full, played games with the damp breezes of the morning. I thought, one would notice her hair. This was all I knew about her then, but as she approached with deliberate intent I had an uneasy feeling that she knew all about me. I shivered slightly even in the humid air, as if my soul had been pierced by an icicle. I could not find words to say as she drew ever nearer. She stopped, near enough to arouse my fear, yet not close enough to invade my space. How the boundary was set I know not, but it was certainly there, and suddenly my fear left me and I felt very safe.
When she spoke her words rushed past me, and seeing that I did not understand, she reached out as if to recall her words and then give them to me at a pace more adequate to my hearing.
“I’m sorry if I startled you,” she said. “I still have not found a way to approach people without startling them.” It struck me that I was not her first encounter, and I wondered who she was and why she had chosen me for this encounter. I was silent, not wanting to admit that I was startled, and yet not knowing how to respond.
I said, “I did not expect to find anyone here,” and then adding, “it is quite unusual for me to encounter anyone here.” Something in me smiled and I was satisfied that I had a passable response to her.
“You come here for the isolation.” This was an intrusion, certainly, for I felt that she had pulled my words from deep within my soul. I was hearing my own words from her lips. She did not speak accusingly; it was a simple statement, an affirmation. Within me my sense of safety and my feeling of unease engaged in serious struggle. I tried to hide this from her, but I knew that she was there in the struggle and she knew it well ahead of me.
“I am not isolated here,” I replied. “The water speaks; the wind answers; the stars dance, and as you can hear for yourself, the birds sing their morning songs.” I did not sound as convincing as I had hoped, and I wondered how she felt about my distress. I wanted her to speak, for the silence made me even more anxious. I wanted her to speak, to give me a moment to think. I was no longer thinking; I was living in a fluid movement of emotion. I knew that I was on my beach with a presence. Beyond that, I knew nothing. I, who am accustomed to adventures in the world of knowing, felt lost.
She looked at me in a way that showed compassion, and I wondered why this stranger would think I needed her compassion.
“You have filled this ocean with your tears.” It seemed my own voice was speaking my own words. But it was not I. How can she know my words? Does she lodge in the place where my words are born? Does she give birth to my words? My mind struggled to find answers.
“The ocean needs your tears; the earth is sad,” she said. I felt that I had uttered these very words in a different life-time. I’m sure I did. They are imprinted on my spirit. I know them well. My spirit is where I hoard my most precious thoughts. It is the guardian of the journey of my thoughts and words. Were I to disappear, my spirit possesses all that is necessary to bring me back complete.
“The wind brings the waves to you; it guides them here so they can bear your tears to the wounded earth.” My ears struggled to shut out these words, for I have known that the wound of the earth is my own wound. I do not want to know that, to be reminded. It is impossible to un-know a transgression. She held me before myself with a tenderness that one might mistake for love. Or, perhaps it was love that one might mistake for tenderness. I did not know.
She said after a long time, “The water and the wind await you daily. If you did not share your sadness with them, how will the earth be healed?” Somewhere inside my soul this made sense, not that I could comprehend it, simply to say, something inside me made sense. I thought, she makes my old words new; she gives them a sense and a meaning after I had drained them dry. I love words. Meanings I can do without. Words are strong, powerful, they have structure, sound, tones. They stare at you from a written page, invade your ears and then dare you to forget them. Meanings are flexible, subjective. They change, age, grow old and die. Not so words.
She was no more than one meter from me but the distance that separated us was infinite. Close to where her hand rested on the sand was a small pebble, dark against the white sand. She picked it up, amazed that the earth had given her a gift. She marveled at how the ocean had given shape to the pebble. To her it was a precious stone. She handed it to me and whispered something that I did not catch.
“The pebble cannot live without the ocean,” she said. I walked towards the water, and gently laid the pebble at the edge of a wave. In an instant it was gone.
“You have returned it to its home. It is so happy now.” That an ocean of tears could be home to a happy pebble made some sense in a world very far from where I sat.
It was a long time before anyone spoke. I could hardly contain much longer the questions racing through my mind. However, it would be rude to question her. I already had a sense that she knew what was on my mind, so it did not make much sense to interrogate her.
The sun was attempting to break upon the horizon, and the gods stirred from their sleep to welcome the great light. She turned toward the horizon briefly and then back towards me. I could read neither her eyes nor her face. I did not know what she was thinking, nor dared I ask. Not that she would hesitate or object, as she seemed disposed to answer me. I had been here longer than was my custom, yet I had no desire to leave her.
“When the light arrives, will you leave?” I asked, not knowing why this question arose. She did not answer immediately. For some reason I was grateful for the silence now. I had realized in an earlier silence, every time I had spoken my soul rejoiced. I thought somewhat humorously that my soul was enjoying this encounter more than I. I did not want her to leave. She must have known that, for as I said, she appeared to know me very well.
“The light has been here all along. It has always been here when you arrived daily.” I reflected upon her words in silence. I tried to find some sense in what she said. She broke into my reverie sensing my difficulty. “The light shines. That is the truth. It is the essence of the light always to shine.” She pointed to the rising sun and I followed her gaze. I could almost hear the gods rejoicing that the sun had appeared again. Their prayers and chants and oblations were answered.
“You wanted to know if I will leave when the light arrives.” I nodded, embarrassed at my audacity. “I have come from the light,” she informed me. “I come from the light without leaving it behind. As the pebble’s home is the ocean, so my home is the light. It does not leave me, nor I it. As the light is always here, I am always here.” Now I am sure that this was not just a chance encounter. From her home in the light she had observed me here all the years I have been coming. She must have been the presence that always comforted me even before the time of trial was begun in the childhood years of the earth. Hers must have been the hands that led me to this isolated beach when the moon was still young and the stars wild in their adolescence. I had always sensed a presence here, and I thought of gods dancing as the light gave birth to earth, their sounds of joy echoing through time, and now shaped into the presence that comforted me.
“The gods did indeed dance; and the light did indeed give birth to the earth,” she said, making my own thoughts audible. “You have never been alone on this isolated beach.” I felt safe in her words. I tried not to try to understand her words, but only to rest in them. This was difficult for me, for I am one who wants to know. Knowledge has been my strength, or so I thought.
Impulsively, I blurted, “Then, why are you here now, sitting with me on the sand?” Immediately I regretted my outburst and tried to take my words back. But I did not have to do so. As if not to hear my words, she held them in her hands, and then, gradually opening her fingers, released my words into the wind. I felt chastened, forgiven.
“I have come to tell you, the time of trial has ended, the earth is being healed. Your tears were more than water, your sadness deeper than grief. Each drop was a miracle, born of contrition, for this you were chosen.” I could not believe the words that seared my soul. Had I been coming here not of my own will, I wondered? Had she been directing my path all along?
“Then you are a messenger? An angel, perhaps? But I see no wings,” I protested.
She arose slowly from the sand, and gazing once more upon the horizon, replied, “Angels do not have wings.” She smiled, a gentle rebuke to my question. She began walking toward the far end of the beach. Or perhaps it was I receding, I cannot say. In the distance, she blended into the coppery sunlight of dawn, and like the pebble in the ocean, she was home again, and happy.