Angels Unaware

by Deborah Smith Douglas

She was a striking looking woman: Jamaican, I thought, maybe Egyptian. High cheek-bones, mahogany skin, waist-length black hair braided into cornrows and fastened at the nape of her long neck.

She took the window seat; I had the aisle. We smiled at each other as we stowed our bags and fastened our seatbelts, but we did not speak. She opened her book, I flipped through a magazine. I was grateful for the silence, and the empty seat between us. I didn’t want to make small talk with strangers that day. I was on my way to visit my father in the nursing home to which dementia had recently confined him. My mind was like a jumbled box of knives: all sharp edges, fears and sorrows that cut deep if I tried to pick them up.

I needed the silence, and the space. To sort those wounding blades into some kind of safe order—or at least fasten the box securely closed.

Not until we the wheels of the plane touched down did my fellow traveler speak. She leaned toward me across the empty space between us, and said softly, “I hope you won’t mind me saying this, but everything will be all right.”

“Excuse me?” I asked, amazed.

“Whatever it is you are worried about, it is going to be all right. Be at peace.”

I was speechless for a moment. Then “thank you,” I said. I took a deep breath and smiled shakily. “I needed to hear that.”

“Oh I am so glad,” she replied, visibly relieved. “I was afraid it would sound strange, and I didn’t want to say anything, but the Lord said, ‘you be obedient now, and tell that lady what I said.’”

And then we were at the gate, and the plane erupted into the familiar upheaval of arrival. I lost sight of my traveling companion almost at once. She had disappeared, as completely as angels in the Bible when they have spoken what they have to say. The peace that she offered that day has been elusive in the difficult months since then. But I hold fast to the memory of that stranger’s words, the promise that “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” And I marvel at the ways God finds to speak to us along our pilgrim way.


Deborah Smith Douglas has degrees in literature and law, has been trained in spiritual direction, and is a member of the Episcopal Church. A Camaldolese Benedictine oblate, she leads retreats in the United States and Britain. A frequent contributor to Weavings, she is the author of The Praying Life: Seeking God in All Things and, with her husband David Douglas, co-author of Pilgrims in the Kingdom: Travels in Christian Britain.