24 Jun

woods path angels

By Rhea H. Boyden

In her memoir ‘Long Quiet Highway’, author and teacher of creative writing, Natalie Goldberg reminds us to think of our angels when we are writing. She tells us to write about our special ‘angel people’ and ‘angel places’ and think about the importance both play in shaping our lives, inspiration and creativity.

My first thought when I read this is ‘Well, I am not religious and I do not believe in angels, so what is she talking about?’ Upon further reflection, however, I realize that what she advises makes sense. The word ‘angel’ on the simplest level means ‘messenger’ and as a writer I try and stay open to all kinds of messages that might be useful in my stories and in my life in general.

So what does she mean by ‘angel places’ anyway?  Does she simply mean the places that always come back to you in your dreams or thoughts that make you feel at peace or inspire you? Perhaps. There is a path down to the river near my family’s house in Ireland that I always think about for some reason, when I write any memories of childhood. The memory of walking this path with my childhood friends in my neighbourhood brings back further happy memories of spending our summers at the river swimming. This path is one of my ‘angel places’ and I can’t quite pinpoint why I always think of it, but thoughts of walking along it always inspire me to write. I can only presume that this what Natalie Goldberg is getting at when she talks of ‘angel places’.

Now her concept of ‘angel people’ is one I find more intriguing. I definitely have my angels in my life who have guided me at very important points and not only regarding writing and creativity, but regarding much bigger and important life issues. There is one man in my life who I have always thought of as a guardian angel. He is an old family friend, and over the years he has always given me the best snippets of advice on what decision I should make at a certain juncture. His well-timed pearls of wisdom have guided and helped me and I have never quite understood why I have this connection to him necessarily. Is he some sort of ‘angel person’? He has even appeared in my dreams at times giving me extremely valuable pieces of information. There are some things that people say to you that you simply never forget.

I recently saw a humorous photo on Facebook of a marble statue of an angel with its head in its hands, full of despair. The quote under it said ‘I think my guardian angel must look like this a lot’. This made me chuckle, but I also related to it immediately. When I was partying and drinking a lot in Berlin (and acting less than angelic at times) before I finally completely quit the decadent lifestyle, I imagine that my guardian angel must have had some serious doubts and fears at times. I suppose I had a guardian angel ultimately protecting me against the demon, devil drink and I came through that episode relatively unscathed and with a great many stories to tell of Berlin nightlife.

Not to say that I did not have a few dark moments before quitting drinking where I pleaded to certain angels for guidance. There is a poem by the American poet, essayist and feminist, Adrienne Rich that I particularly relate to called ‘Gabriel’. (Gabriel being the archangel who visited Mary to foretell of the birth of Christ).  I am not sure what Rich meant, or what she was experiencing when she wrote the following lines, but they speak to me of a certain leveling with a higher guardian power that is there to warn, admonish and level with you for your own good: ‘The Angel is barely speaking to me, he isn’t giving or taking any shit, we glance miserably across the room at each other.’ Was Rich having a real conversation with an ‘angel person’ or was she speaking to a celestial being? It doesn’t really seem to matter. The whole poem appears to convey that she was given some special message by someone or something to help her work out one of life’s great challenges or turning points.

About the same time I quit drinking, another dear old family friend who makes angel necklaces, gave me one of her beautiful necklaces. It is shining silver with angel wings and has lovely glistening opals inlaid in it. Inside the box that the necklace came in is the following quote: ‘Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.’ This is a wonderfully guiding quote and has indeed proven useful. My attitude changed completely after the negative haze of alcohol induced depression lifted. I have a new found optimism in life, and things are not as dark as they once were at all, even though the daily particulars of my life have hardly changed.

I like to think of angels as being more metaphorical and poetic, but according to several polls conducted in the United States in 2009, a staggering 55% of Americans actually truly believe in angels. So according to studies, more Americans believe in angels than in climate change. A poll at the same time revealed that a mere 36% percent of Americans believed in global warming, a trend I surely hope is changing as more and more evidence comes to light as to the devastating effects of climate change. Or do these people pray to a guardian angel when a hurricane strikes or a flash flood occurs? I am not going to delve too much into climate change politics or religion because I fear the backlash that may cause. Instead I will just quote another line of poetry about angels by one of my favourite poets, William Blake: ‘I heard an angel singing, when the day was springing.’ A simple line of simple joy.

I like to think that my ‘angel people’ are the ones who come into my life and guide me at a time when I need them. In this sense, a lot of interesting and uncanny coincidences can be tied into a lot of my deepest experiences. After my fast paced partying Berlin life came to a close, I then started writing for the online magazine ‘Slow Travel Berlin’. This has turned out to be a tremendous thing for me as I have slowed things down and started to take my life and my writing more seriously. The editor of this magazine is truly one of my angels. He is an angel in the form of a mentor who believes in my work and gives me tonnes of advice, encouragement and feedback all the time. When he invited me to the magazine’s Christmas dinner party last year, I felt right at home. When I met him, his wife, and some of the other journalists, I had a strong feeling somehow that I recognized and knew these people already. This must be what Natalie Goldberg means when she talks of ‘angel people’ in your life. To close, I will quote a few more lines of Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Gabriel’ which also speak to me as I sit in solitude in my apartment on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon surrounded by my books, my notes and my angel people who are (as cheesy as it sounds) all around me all the time: ‘I sit in the bare apartment reading, words stream past me, poetry, twentieth century rivers, disturbed surfaces reflecting clouds, salutations in gold leaf, ribboning from his lips.’

2 Responses to “Angels”

  1. Tony Mulqueen July 13, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    There are angels in our lives. Wonderful writing Rhea.

    • rheahboyden July 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback Tony. I definitely have my angels anyway. I would be nothing without them.

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