Two angels watched the man as he trudged through the dark streets.
“Tell me,” said the Elder. “What do you see?”
The younger angel studied the man.
“I see sadness.”
“I see weariness.”
“Look once more.”
“I see despair.”
“Now look on the other side.”
The two angels stepped out of the physical world and into the spiritual one. They could still see the man. Still see his slow steps weaving aimlessly though the night.
His angel wings sagged and pulled at his slumped shoulders, dragging his spirit down rather than lifting it. Grey mould mottled their silver surface and dark gaps showed through the thin feathers.
The younger angel wept. He’d never seen a man with wings so damaged.
“It’s been a long time since he exercised those wings. A long time since he’s felt the fruits of the Holy Spirit – so little joy and peace and kindness.”
“Is it too late? Can the wings be restored? What can we do?”
“We watch and we wait.”
“It’s too hard to watch.”
The angels kept watch as the man’s path took him through the city, across the river, along the canal and out where the wind swept across the barren moor. He climbed to the top and stopped. He faced the wind, clenched his fists and shouted with anger at the night.
“Now we must help,” said the younger angel.
“Not yet. We must wait a while.”
The man’s head dropped into his hands and sorrow filled his palms.
“We wait,” said the Elder.
The man turned and almost slipped. The wind held his back and nudged him onwards down the heather cloistered path, around the gorse tussocks and into the shelter of the trees where it left him with a sigh that rippled the autumn leaves.
The man approached the crooked oak. His hand felt its coarse bark and his head sank against its troubled trunk.
“I’m lost,” he said and slumped to lie in the crook of its roots.
The angels watched helpless and waited with hope.
No words were said, but the angels heard his silent call for help.
“Now, the time has come. Follow me and we will see what we can do.”
The Elder angel stepped once more into the spirit world and wrapped his wings around the man and the tree, and gently squeezed until the two became one.
The man opened his eyes even though they hadn’t been closed. He looked and he saw. He saw the texture of time stitched with seasons into a tapestry of years. He felt a trio of tugs from the gravity of the earth, the moon and the sun; one holding him rooted, one pushing and pulling at his sap and one shining life into his leaves.
The man felt the weight of spent leaves heavy on his outstretched arms. Each one a burden waiting to fall. He touched them. He knew them. They were his.
The sun rose and struck the tree with hope of distant spring, a cherished hope that the tree knew in every ring but which the man couldn’t comprehend. He let out a great sob that shook from root to branch and dislodged leaves fluttered to the floor, taking with them some of his pain.
But the man’s despair was too much for those leaves alone. The tree opened the man’s eyes again, even though they hadn’t been closed. He saw his roots sunk into solid ground. The roots of his life, all that he had been, all that he had seen, all that he knew.
But the man’s despair kept a tight hold and wouldn’t be shaken off.
The tree was not defeated. It opened the man’s eyes wider still. He looked along the roots to their very tips and then unexpectedly found the fungal threads. Threads that wove throughout the forest floor. Faithful threads that stretched from tree to tree. Fertile threads full of support from friends and family. Generous threads that inspired, and warned and loved.
The old crooked oak asked for help and received goodness; and then with gentle kindness took up the man’s burdens and dropped them leaf by leaf to nourish the forest floor.
The man let out a long breath and drifted into a peaceful sleep.
The Elder angel eased the spirits apart and blessed the tree. The man woke and walked away with a lighter tread.
“The mould has gone. He is healed.”
“It’s true his pain is eased and for a while he’ll see kindness and feel joy, but as one season follows another so the burdens will return. Wait here with me. Let’s wait together in hope.”
“But what of the tree? How can it carry so much?”
“The tree is not like the man. It knows how to shed its burdens and it knows how to nurture new life.”
The angels waited and watched and their hope increased, for each day the man returned to touch the oak and whisper his thanks. He told the tree his troubles and felt peace. He told of love and kindness and felt joy.
And his angel wings, that had once pulled him down, shone a little brighter and felt a little lighter, until one day they lifted his spirit again.