Angels can only see in metaphors, and this fact tends to be as inconvenient for the Heavenly Hosts as it is for the people we try to help. Each Angel has a unique interpretation of the world. Mine is beaded bracelets.
While I know life consists of far more complex things—falling in love, dealing with illness, achieving a dream or losing one—all I see are millions of people sitting calmly on the floor and quietly stringing colored beads on strings.
Here is a man making a bracelet of only one color. Over and over, he adds dark blue beads to the string. He doesn’t even look at the other beads lying in tidy piles around him. I think his true life must be repetitive and he is afraid to seek change. I kneel close and whisper, “It’s okay to try something new.” He strings another blue bead, so I try again. “Different doesn’t always mean frightening. See what else is out there.”
After looking at the colors suspiciously, he selects a green bead and adds it to the bracelet. He returns to blue after that, but I am proud of him just the same. I don’t know what that bead represents, but the experience wasn’t easy for him. “Good job,” I whisper, kissing his forehead.
I trust that God has a good reason for only allowing us metaphorical views of the world, but I still think it’s sad that my advice is so vague. I wish I could do more.
Here is a girl struggling to force a bead over a knot. This means that some obstacle is keeping her from having an experience she wants. She grinds her teeth and yanks at the bead, and I am afraid that the string will break and all of the previously ordered beads will scatter into chaos.
“Slow down,” I whisper, but she shuts out my words. “It’ll be okay. Just untie the knot.” But here I’ve made a mistake. To her, it isn’t a knot; it’s an injury or financial difficulty or unfulfilled obligation. I try again. “Take a step back. Trust me.”
She hesitates, but then pulls the bead off the string with tears hovering at her eyelids. “I know, Sweetheart. I know it’s frustrating. Let’s just look at the problem, okay? What’s the real reason you can’t move forward?”
I want to continue helping her, but I don’t know what that knot represents, let alone how to untie it. That is something only she can do. After a long time, she starts picking at the knotted string. I kiss her and say, “Well done,” and move on.
An old woman reaches out to me as I pass. Her eyes meet mine, so I know she is praying. “What’s wrong?” I ask. In response she holds out two beads, yellow and purple, begging for help deciding between them. These are the moments in which I feel most useless. How can I possibly tell her how to proceed without knowing what the real choices are?
“Follow your heart,” I whisper. She holds the beads out again, eyes pleading me to choose for her. I know she would follow my advice without question. Why am I here if I can’t answer the prayers of a woman with such admirable faith? “I’ll stay with you,” I say, because it’s all I can offer. She chooses purple, and I am proud of her, but ashamed of myself. I did nothing.
Then I notice a young man who hasn’t put a single bead on his bracelet. What could that possibly mean? “Are you afraid?” I ask, but he doesn’t hear me. “Are you lonely?” No response. I look at the string. “You’re empty, aren’t you?”
He whimpers softly in a way that tells me I’m right. He begins tying a knot in the string. “No… You don’t want to do that,” I say, hovering my fingers close to his and wishing I could touch him. “Please don’t. It will make life so much harder.” He seems to understand, and yet keeps tying the knots anyway.
I understand now that he is lost in depression. He eyes the golden clasp that can only be attached to the bracelet at the end of life. Normally God does that part, but he is thinking of doing it himself.
“Please don’t,” I beg him. “I’ll find a way to help you. Wait for me.”
He gives me fleeting nod, but his eyes are so glassy I know I must be quick.
I search for people with the same sadness. I see bracelets with little sections too knotted to hold any beads. Some just accept the gap and move on. Some become angry, looking at fuller bracelets and seeing their own as ugly and incomplete.
Then I find a woman with the answer I was hoping existed. Her string is filled with knots, but they are not merely hindrances to the beads. She found ways to make knots decorative. It was a much harder bracelet to make, surely, but it was beautiful beyond words.
I turn to run back to my sad boy, but then stop myself. How can I describe the woman’s life without mentioning bracelets? I look back to the lady as she weaves beads in with the knots, and I know I can’t teach him how to do that.
But maybe she can.
I bend close to her and whisper, “Will you come with me? Someone needs you.” She stands and follows as I lead her to the boy. I’m sure they talk in real life, but I can’t hear their words. Through my eyes, she sits down beside him, shows him the bracelet she is weaving, and he makes a hesitant attempt at copying it. It isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.
And for once, I don’t resent only seeing in metaphors. I can see enough to know which people can help each other. That’s all I really need to know.