“lest they be angels in disguise”

I recently read an article in Vanity Fair about Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, (why yes,  it’s been on my bucket list since I first learned of its existence, maybe in an Anais Nin biography eons ago, and maybe then again when I saw it in a Woody Allen movie, –Midnight in Paris–  a few years back, so yes, it’s on *The List* ) and in this VF piece there was a photo of an arched doorway in the shop on which was painted a quote, wrongly, it was noted, attributed to the poet John Keats, “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest they be Angels in Disguise” and my heart skipped a beat when I read these words… I have often thought about this very thing…how you never really know who you are talking to, or why you meet certain people, or why some interactions leave you feeling infinitely better about life or love or just existing on this earth.   I have had a few experiences where I’ve been made aware that there are people on the planet who have, or seem to exhibit,  qualities not of this earth…I don’t mean to sound Sci-Fi silly, like when I watch one of my favorite t.v. shows, Ancient Aliens, but I do mean to sound deeply thoughtful of the fact that I believe there are people all around us who have a “gift” or a light, or a sense of things…that are much deeper and much more profound than my gifts, light, or sense.

I have had interactions with a handful of people over my life who “knew” of, or felt things about me, that they could not possibly -know- because I did not know these people, but they read me like a book so to speak; they zoned in on aspects of who I am, and how I think, and what matters to me in ways that ‘regular’ people would not know.  Stuff that is visible on the outside is not always at all representative of what is on the inside…but there is a comfort in believing, or knowing, that some of these strangers we meet or communicate with COULD be something ‘more.’   What?  I don’t know…but something other than what we think we understand…I think of it much like a story I read on the internet a couple of years ago; where a preacher, who thought he was surrounded by “good Christians” in his congregation, people to whom he preached every Sunday and who claimed to be Bible following people, who walked the walk and talked the talk, dressed like a homeless man (and got himself to stink and be unshaven and unkempt like one too) to conduct an experiment, and was horrified that these supposedly kind & good & Godly people acted so coolly and heartlessly and indifferent towards him when he was in this ‘disguise.’  The story was disheartening really, in pointing out to me, or any reader, how unbelievably judgmental and awful we humans can be to others who are “them” and not “us.”

And…much like I wrote the other day about Thanksgiving, so many people suffer from this bizarre delusion that they are SO much better, or SO much better off, and SO far away from being a “them,” when in reality, it is not much more than some missed paychecks, or loss of a job, or terrible diagnosis, that brings one from an ‘us’ to a them in no time…ANYway, I often have thought about those people who see things, who feel things, who are somehow more in tune with the universe than I, and I also kind of like that song, ‘what if God was one of us?’  I mean, what if, honestly, God was real and one of us, or some dirty scruffy smelly homeless man was really an angel, or some haggard frizzy haired toothless horrid woman was really a blessing in disguise, some sort of universal messengers, and we just dismissed them as worthless, as losers, as has-beens, as not-so-special, as insignificant…what if?  Wouldn’t you feel like total shit if you were awful to such a person and then realized, A-Ha!!  it was a trick…a test…this is an angel among mortals, this is a magical mystery goddess in tattered clothes, this is God in some confusing form…and you failed???

I read the quote that day in Vanity Fair and felt like it was something that could be a mantra for me…I try to, or aspire to be, one of the least judgmental people on the planet, and I am highly comforted by the fact that there might actually be a god, or might actually be angels among us.  I have been told at times in my life that I was a sap, a patsy, or too empathetic, or not tough enough…and all of those things might very well be true.  But I have to wonder, can you be too kind??  Can you be too compassionate??  Maybe.  BUT, I think somebody like Pema Chodron or Mother Teresa would disagree.  NOT in any way, AT ALL, to imply my efforts to be kind, and to be nice to people is in any way whatsoever relatable to Christian or Buddhist like behavior and goodness, but I really do think it matters to be nice before you be anything else…and when you can, understand, and when you can, empathize, and when you can, comfort, and when you can, love.  It seems like if there is a choice about how to act and what to act upon, and how to choose your words, and how to behave towards others, and how to BE in the company of other human beings, would it not be so much better to be good to a potential angel, than not?


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