Angels Incognito

The local California Writer’s Club branch hosts an annual short-short story contest every year.  I hadn’t intended to enter until this morning when one of those end-of-the-night inspirations slipped into awareness.  A story idea:  A reprobate is convinced that “they” are stealing our memories, and he is probably right.

I wrote the opening with relative ease.  We’ll see how it goes; openings are easy, but I also have a great fondness for this kind of character – the guardian or the wise one whose appearance is humble or even repulsive.  You meet him – he is most often male – in various guises in movies and fiction:

Mel Gibson in "Conspiracy Theory," 1997

He is found  in myth and scripture.  John the Baptist is a classic example, who must have dismayed a lot of the city people who came out to hear him.

John the Baptist

Tilopa, (989 – 1069) one of Tibetan Buddhism’s greatest teachers, was expelled from a monastery and made his living as a sesame pounder, a pretty low rung on the social ladder.


Once in a while, you meet someone like this in real life.  I read an account by a man who wanted to go to India in search of a guru, but then found his teacher, a Zen master, earning his living by fixing washing machines in a laundromat 12 miles away.

When my wife was a social worker at Loaves and Fishes, a local center that helps the homeless, she was startled one day as a small hispanic man climbed out of a dumpster in a parking lot. Significantly, his name was Jesus. Mary’s eye’s still light up when she tells what a joyful man he was.  The meeting was so unexpected, but left such a vivid memory, that she thinks of him whenever the subject of angels comes up.

These reflections led me to think of one of my all time favorite fantasy novels, King of Morning, Queen of Day, by Ian McDonald, 1991.  The story features a pair of otherworldly guardians who look a lot like bums as they craft powerful magical charms from bottle caps and debris.  McDonald came to mind when he published his latest novel in December.  I haven’t yet read the new one, but I’ll discuss King of Morning next time.

Meanwhile, has anyone else encountered an angel, a wise man or woman, a mentor or a guardian who showed up disguised as an “ordinary” person but then turned out to be anything but?

5 thoughts on “Angels Incognito

  1. I can’t honestly say I have met this guardian, oxymoron, unassuming person who first appears to be quiet and gentle yet exudes great wisdom or some divine attribute. I will say I work with developmentally delayed adults and often find a simple wisdom in our interactions that humbles me. I like the idea of using that basis for character development though.


    • You got exactly what I was talking about, despite the fact that I couldn’t think of a better word than “angel,” which is probably way too charged with images of gossamer and etherial beauty on one hand, or trumpets and flaming swords on the other.

      Nor was I thinking only of life changing events, like meeting your guru in a laundromat.

      I meant to include what you describe, finding wisdom and humanity in people we might not ordinarily expect to manifest it.


  2. What JT says makes sense to me. My son is a young developmentally delayed adult and ever since he was a small child, he has stated truths in the most simply wise way, demonstrating a profound understanding of reality.
    Now when I stop in at the group home where he lives, all the residents come to the door to greet and interact with me, childlike in their open enthusiasm, which I welcome as a great gift. Angels? Maybe they are.


    • You reminded me of an afternoon when our first dog, Charis, was still a puppy. We got her from a breeder because she did not fit the “breed standard.” She had a red nose, and it was “supposed” to be black. Instead of dark eyes, she had the most beautiful wolf eyes – blue when she was a puppy, becoming gold as an adult. Their loss, we figured. (

      So one day we took her to and agility event in a park, courtesy of the local bichon club. Neither of us had any idea how weird “professional” dog people can be. They were flat out rude, even the breeder who called her, “my mistake.”

      Meanwhile, Charis was afraid of the agility tunnels and wasn’t doing too well – until this little Down’s syndrome girl came up and the two of them bonded instantly. When this girl would call, Charis would dash through the tunnels and jump through the hoops to her. It was a chills-through-the-spine afternoon to watch these two beautiful beings, neither of whom fit their “breed standard,” and how well they did together.

      Stories like yours and events like this always remind me that the Lakotas and many other Native American tribes regarded such children as sacred. I am quite sure they were right.


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