An angel crossed my path

It was time to say a final farewell to my childhood home. My mother, who had lived there for over sixty years, and whom I had visited weekly for the past thirty years or so, died last year, and we’ve been selling the house. It’s a spacious suburban London semi that my mother had made a centre for family gatherings, and some years ago, when we were between homes of our own, my children and I spent a few weeks living there.

The house had now been stripped of anything memorable. On a previous visit, I had walked through the empty rooms, sending blessings and peace, but that morning I was just there to let in the clearance men from the homeless charity, Emmaus, who were going to take the few last bits and pieces from the house, and empty the shed.

So, on that morning, there was nothing for me to do except sit on the stairs and listen to the comings and goings of the clearance men, and the murmurings of the new owner and his architect who had turned up later to discuss their plans.

Feeling somewhat forlorn, I went out into the sunshine of the front garden, and saw a young man studying the Emmaus van, and taking down the details. I said hello, and he asked if I knew anything about the van. I explained that we were clearing my mother’s house. He asked me about her, and I gave a brief account of the hundred and two years of her life. What an extraordinary century it had been; how, leaving St Petersburg in 1920, she had escaped the aftermath of the Russian revolution; how many of her family had died in the Holocaust.

He listened attentively, then after a pause said: “I wish you only happy memories of your mother”, then: “Remember, that if someone lives such a long life, they have outlived all the evil deeds.”

Sunshine. Stillness. We shook hands and, my farewells done, I turned and walked away, feeling completely at peace.

One of my favourite films is Wings of Desire, in which a guardian angel wants to become a human being – wants the love, the feelings, the suffering as well as the joy. We first realise that Damiel is no longer an angel when we see his footprint: a palpable sign of embodiment, of being a human being with all the frailty and glory that that entails.

That day I felt as if I had seen the footprint. I felt as if an angel had crossed my path.