The Angel led the way, treading softly on white fluffy clouds. I followed him, often losing sight of the glistening trail of star dust that his feet left in the air. I kept looking down at the bright lights of the houses far below, cheering each other up in the night, huddling together for warmth in the land bound by frost. The Angel would often stop to wait for me, looking over his shoulder, then moving on, but as he saw me deep in thought peering at a small house in the distance, he halted, turned to face me and the path under his weightless feet dropped into the starry abyss, as if by command.‘It is time. Have you found what you were seeking?’
The Angel’s gentle but firm voice stirred my thoughts away from the contemplation of the world beneath.
‘I have decided. I’d like to be born there.’ I pointed to where a solitary light flickered on the edge of a forest, as if the Angel needed my directions. He nodded with a hint of a smile.
‘Because the people are good. They are respected but they also go their own way in life.’
‘You have never made an easy choice.’
‘Will this one be right for me?’
‘This is a judgement only you can make.’
I thought of the other place I had nearly chosen - a great castle, rich people with good manners, in want of an offspring to dote on. I would have everything I could possibly want and enough money to do anything I desired with my life. But would I learn to want the right things, ask the right questions?.. So I kept searching for a different home, another destiny, until my time ran out.
‘Remember - once reborn, you will have no memory of the choice you are making now.’
‘I know... but I want what is right. I don’t just want a comfortable existence, I want to make a difference in the world!’
‘You are not asked to choose between black and white...’
‘But I want white! I want to remember there is something perfect, which maybe I will never be but which can guide me. Look at the people down there. Most of them never allow themselves to be what they are. Should I not try something better?’
‘The price is always that which you could have chosen instead.’
My courage was waning.
‘You’re giving me no answers. And don’t look at me like that. You know I’m scared.’
‘My purpose is to guide, not to illuminate that which you must uncover yourself. I will help you if you ask, but your life is given unto you for a reason.’
The reason. I never doubted that there was one and yet, having gone through many a lifetime, I was none the wiser about my destiny. Floating on the bed of clouds, I could for this short time remember all of my lives, all trials endured, all lessons learned so far.
Suddenly I felt cold. A strong gust of wind blew past me and dispelled some of the clouds wrapped around the village under my ghostly feet. I saw a large lake frozen solid on the right side of the twinkling houses. Like a huge cold mirror it lay still, sending back the glow of the stars that longed to preen in it without letting the light warm it. I caught myself wondering whether if a spirit could cry and if my tears fell all the way to the ice, they would be hot enough to burrow through the frozen water to the living heart that the pool kept encased in winter’s chill. But the dark lake slept, lost in a dream of its own, and offered me no answer.
I slumped at the Angel’s feet and stared into the whiteness that carried us. His presence made the cloud shine and sparkle, like fresh fallen snow. The other clouds that were drifting past seemed grey and lifeless in comparison, claimed by the shadows of the night. The Angel carried the light, the warmth, the clarity I needed but he guarded them faithfully until the time I was prepared to take and pass them on, and I didn’t know when that time would come. Over and over again I stood above the world choosing my next life, yet still I wasn’t satisfied, and every time the Angel was the same - calm, mysterious, distant.
‘I can’t do this on my own! I need help now, not when I have all the answers!’
I sprung to my feet but in an instant the overwhelming anger pulled me down like a rock tied to my feet and I plummeted through the cloud towards the ground, a shooting star bent on solving the mystery of the dark lake before its fire was quenched.
The Angel plunged into the black sky with his wings stretched out, blazing like a phoenix. I didn’t fall more than a few fathoms when his radiant arms pulled me back up to the cloud. A few seconds later I found myself curled up on his mighty chest, protectively shielded by the two magnificent wings folded so tightly around me that I could only see a tiny speck of the night.
‘Anger makes your heart heavy and every tear you shed goes not only through fire and ice but cuts through the very soul of the world. Rest a while. There is time.’
The Angel’s hand remained on me for some time and as I felt currents of warmth pour into me I gradually drifted into peace. Pressed to his chest I could hear no heartbeat or movement of breath, but in every fibre of his glowing body I sensed the living force of which I was a part.
‘Didn’t you say the time was up?’
‘I did, but then you asked for help. You have tried to follow the path in your soul. This is the only thing that is ever asked of you and for as long as you walk with us, help will always come.’
I turned away from the onyx sky which betrayed that the world outside the the Angel’s wings was real, and thought again.
‘You won’t give me answers and yet you give me more time. Does that mean I was asking the wrong questions?’
‘It does not. However, you searched for your answers in the wrong place.’
I looked up at the Angel’s face and saw a smile that was brighter than the morning sun. Its light engulfed everything, bounced off from his eyes that looked like two deep wells of azure spring sky, and turned the silky threads of his long pale hair into liquid gold. A keeper of secrets he was, but he was also a messenger, a constant reminder that none of us are alone when we make our choices. The great wings parted slowly and I saw an orange flicker on the horizon.
‘The dawn!’ I gasped.
‘Worry not about time. Sit. Now I have questions to ask.’
I climbed down, trying not to touch the wings, and the Angel laughed. I sat down and put my elbows on my knees, so my head rested in my hands. He landed on the edge of the cloud, the vast wings cutting through the white fluffy mist and his feet floating in the cold air beneath.
‘Answer me this - what have you learned from all your lives in this world?’
‘That you can have whatever you ask for, but not necessarily in the form you’d hoped.’
The Angel stirred, surveying the glow rising from the east.
‘Why do you think this is the case?’
I turned on the cloud to face him and wrapped my pale hands around me. All of a sudden I had some explaining to do. The Angel waited with a serene look on his face, dangling his feet off the edge of the cloud and staring at the stars. He looked a lot more like a child amused at the wonders of Nature, not a stalwart guardian that dragged me out of a dark chasm of anger but a short while ago.
‘I think it’s because we only ever ask you for the kind of help that makes things easier and makes us happier. Take love, for instance. When I asked you to help me find love, you gave me a part of it as I imagined it would be - radiant, overpowering, but you also gave me sacrifice, fear and longing, though I never asked for that sort of education. Then I settled for a compromise because I found that in order to have something you must give something too.’
‘Then why will you not take the compromise again, if you found it to be the true way of life?’
We drifted into the shadow of a much larger cloud overhead, which dimmed all the colours and the shine of the Angel’s wings.
‘This is why! I don’t want the grey! I like white snow, golden sun, love without taint, power without greed! Not half-way, not just a little too short. I don’t want everything to be perfect, but I do want the things that are important to me to be pristine.’
I was pacing there and back on the little cloud, kicking up puffs of white. My hands were flailing in the air as I tried to find the right words. The Angel did not move, but I felt his unrelenting gaze on me.
‘So if it is the case that you can be given whatever you ask for, what is it that you want?’
‘I want... I want to know exactly what I need and to choose again if I go wrong.’
Could that have been it? To go through life at my own pace, learn what I truly need and then make it happen? To choose when I’m ready and not feel a destiny imposed on me.
I stood now on the opposite end of the cloud from the Angel and saw the first long rays of the Sun tickling the sky. It was beautiful in the most natural way, like a perfect answer to a simple question. I felt the Angel’s hand on my shoulder.
‘Well then... what is it that you want?’
‘I want to learn, with love, happiness and understanding. I want to look for my purpose in this life.’
‘A good answer.’ The Angel lifted me up onto his shoulder and stepped down from the cloud. He walked upon the morning air now speckled with gold, getting ever closer to the little cottage I had settled on. As his feet touched the snow, not a mark was left behind and when I stepped on the white brilliance that had covered the ground overnight, I felt neither cold, nor damp. A candle was burning bright in one of the windows and I tip-toed like a naughty child to the windowsill and tried to steal a glimpse of my new family without being caught.
The Angel followed me and stood right in front of the window by my side.
‘They will not see you, but you can now make your decision complete.’
Wide-eyed I looked at my mother and father-to-be, preparing for a long day’s work.They smiled at each other in a tender way and everything about them hinted at peace and clear conscience. Maybe I’d have to work hard for my choice but I didn’t mind. They had what I wanted - love, the perfection that keeps the world spinning, the one thing in the Universe you want to get right.
I wanted to cry, I was happy. As I turned, the Angel was walking away on the soft bright snow.
‘It is time’, he called as he turned at the edge of the frozen lake.
‘Wait!’ I shouted, running after him, worrying about my feet getting stuck in the snow, though of course they couldn’t. As I caught up with the Angel I saw that the Sun was rising quickly now and the night was finally retreating. Like a young lady that stayed too late at a ball, she picked up her skirts of dark clouds and was running off until she was invited back to dance across the sky again a few hours later. I was wrong - she wasn’t jet black and menacing, a monster swallowing shooting stars, she only extinguished the sunlight so that when the morning came back it could be reborn even more radiant.
The Angel took my hand and began to ascend towards the orange glow. For a moment I hesitated but then jumped in front of him and lunged at his chest with my arms spread out. He embraced me, folding his arms and wings around my spectral figure and lightly stroking my head.
‘I’m quite sure now.’ I pronounced and was immediately amazed at the confidence with which my voice rang in the crisp winter air. ‘I want to be born to these people. They’re the right ones. And thank you for being so patient with me.’
‘Patience is love. And I am Love’s messenger.’
Now I could return the Angel’s brilliant smile. And as I did, I closed my eyes and turned to the Sun.
‘It is done then.’ The Angel stretched out his luminous hand and I felt my essence slowly dissolving into light.