Not One But Three Guardian Angels


NOT ONE BUT THREE GUARDIAN ANGELSOne day in August 2000, I was reading an article in the Two River Times, our local newspaper, a portion of which I have included below. “Have you felt this before? That time in your life when something miraculous happens? The event fills you with joy, hope and overwhelming happiness. You think you’re going to burst, an explosion from the chest outward, like some supernova erupting through your sternum, into the galaxy. Energy radiates from within, working its magic through your whole body. You’re overcome by the feeling that there is good in the world. That ‘wow’ moment consumes space and time. It lingers, and then it’s gone.


Some people experience it at the birth of their first child. Others grasp the feeling high atop a great personal achievement like finishing the New York marathon. For others, a ‘wow’ is simply witnessing a yellow-breasted finch’s flight from the flower garden. I got ‘wow-ed’ when I was twenty-four. My gas kitchen oven blew up in my face, leaving second and third degree burns on the better part of my visage. Clean and to the point, the blowout left me with no eyebrows, clump eyelashes and an unsolicited dermabrasion facial. It brought new meaning to the term ‘mug shot.’ My roommate of three days was overwhelmed, to say the least. My girlfriend cried. The doctor said never go out in the sun again without an SPF 500. Great. Just what a twenty-something, beach hopping maven wants to hear.I had just broken up with my boyfriend and my life was officially over. As I left the emergency room, the resident insisted I wear this giant, white sock over my head. ‘It’ll keep the infection down,’ he offered. The shroud was really to keep me from falling down. I almost passed out when I encountered my first mirror. I was gruesome. I still opted out of the sock, a more obvious if not dubious choice. My first ‘wow’ was a reversal. I imploded. My heart sank. Dread veiled my spirit. How was I going to get through this one? I thought. With silver oxide cradled in one hand and a couple Percasets in the other, I skulked home. My single-girl party ship was capsized. I was alone, swollen and lipless. I saw no sweet kisses in my future.I finally understood the true purpose for big, red, wax lips. I crawled into bed, leaving the light off.


My roommate did the best he could, half-joking he’d leave me lip balm and sunglasses for the morning. I cocked him a one-eyed ‘Good night,’ my stubbing lashes entangling themselves in mid-blink. I lay there wondering my next career move. Circus sideshow, a sales rep for some heavy-duty make-up line, spokesperson for Scab Pickers Anonymous. Was it worth sticking around for? Would I ever look the same?Then my real ‘wow’ moment hit me. For at the edge of my bed stood three guardian angels. Three, I was told; because I was such high maintenance they had to take shifts. I half-smirked at the thought of the poor soul appointed to my wee-hours-of-the-night crusades. Amazingly, none of them was scorched. Guess you guys missed the call about two hours ago, I thought. The tallest angel, shrouded in friar’s garb, told me to slow down. He said nothing, but I knew what he was saying without saying a word. Bizarre, I thought, this must be really good medication.The second and smaller angel simply looked on. His gaze ping-ponged fervently between the Robe and me. He must have been the one sleeping on the job. (I found out later, from my roommate’s description that I was blown out like a ten-year-old’s birthday cake. One minute I was on fire, the next, extinguished and slumped against the cabinets some ten feet across the room. Guess the middle guy had some lungs after all). Holding no grudges, I looked to the third.My little cherub propped his elbow on my bed, reached over, and touched my face. Supernova whooshed over me at warp speed. ‘We’ll keep an eye on you. It’s not your time.’ I grinned a sunburned smirk, my cracked lips split with relief. And they were gone. Was that all a high-grade pharmaceutical hallucination? Or did the drugs launch me into the astral plane? Could it have been my inner survival mechanism kicking in, keeping me from initiating the Big Dirt Nap on my own? Think what you may, but my ‘wow’ has kept me going ever since.


Life is filled with good and bad times. But knowing I’ve got an angelic A-Team of three in the wings, figuratively or otherwise, keeps me in good stead.Never underestimate a ‘wow’ moment or the power of symbolically-placed images. Real or not, they serve their purpose.” The author of this Red Bank column, Tara Collins, had her email at the end of this story and asked for comments. I wrote her telling her about spiritual experiences which sometimes happen when someone is desperate and is in a crisis in their life. I said that I definitely thought her angel story was a spiritual experience.Here is what Tara wrote a couple of weeks later in her next column: “Funny how two people can have totally different reactions to a story. In my column on August 24th, I described one of many ‘wow’ moments I’ve experienced over the years. My father e-mailed me the week after the oven story and told me how frightening it was. Frightening? That surely wasn’t my intention. But from a father’s perspective, no doubt, his thought of losing his only daughter in a fiery blaze not linked with a plane crash could surely be perceived as frightening.


I assured him it was better for me to have told him fourteen years after the fact than the day it happened. He would have MADE me get on a plane that day and fly home with the ‘sock’ over my head. I would have preferred to go down in a fiery blaze.I now chalk that story up to one of those Tijuana jail stories; some things are better left unsaid to a parent until WAY after the fact. Two days later, I got an email from Karen Herrick. She was enthralled with my story; no mention of ‘frightened,’ scared or even mildly spooked.’ She was, however, surprised at my willingness to share such an intimate moment. Geez, I had briefly thought about that one. But then I decided, ‘Eh, you all think I’m crazy (Here’s that word again!) anyway, so why not?’ She wanted to talk. Herrick is a social worker, psychotherapist and founder of the Center for Children of Alcoholics on Broad Street, who is also working on her doctoral thesis. A bit skeptical, I considered my options. I wondered if I wouldn’t walk out of our meeting with a pack of Paxil in one hand and a script for a frontal lobotomy in the other. She assured me I was not crazy, at least on the seeing angel’s part.We met over lunch at Juanito’s on Monmouth Street. The extra-hot hot sauce masked my sweaty brow. Her doctoral topic? Near-death and spiritual encounters. Wow. Were those angels trying to tell me their own little Tijuana story? We talked about the work of Raymond Moody, the connectedness of the world and our place in it. Apparently, people who have these experiences can go one of two ways. They either become very at ease and trusting with life and what it offers. Or they become very distraught with the incongruity of what they’ve seen vs. what they believe and try very hard to ‘forget’ which only increases their anxiety in life.


Confronted with that celestial head-trip, I found the Paxil and lobotomy much less frightening.After talking, I realized that many people have these experiences but never talk about them. They fear being misunderstood, deemed crazy or too frightened to speak of the event. I found Herrick understanding, sane and willing to listen to the stories I had.


”WHAT DOES “CRAZY” MEAN? Usually when people tell me of a spiritual experience, they’ll start by saying, “I don’t have the words to describe this to you,” or “You’re going to think I’m crazy when I tell you this, but…” And then they tell me what happened to them. One definition of the word crazy is being of unsound mind or being mentally imbalanced, deranged or insane. When I was married to my alcoholic husband, the more emotions I showed outwardly, the more he called me crazy. The more he called me this, the more I felt crazy because I was the only one in the relationship admitting to feeling anything.


Many times people who come to me who are considered to be the crazy one in the family are just having a lot of feelings and are showing them outwardly. They might also feel crazy because of something that has happened to them like the spiritual experience above.


Basically the differences between someone who is having a spiritual experience and someone who is mentally ill are as follows:· A mystic, someone who has experienced God, is humbled by the experience.· This person can tell you about their experience over and over again. The story won’t change much as they tell you. This is called having a good ego and inner strength to explain the experience.· The person has/had a “life” before the experience, which in psychological terms is called “good pre-episode functioning”.· Mostly in telling you about spiritual experiences, the person describes something visual. (They can hear also but the preponderance of what my clients have described have been visual experiences.)· The spiritual experience usually gives an answer to the person having it.


In Tara’s case, it helped her handle that crisis of being burned and other rough periods in her life knowing that her angels were there watching out for her.


The differences in mental illness, the main forms which are schizophrenia, paranoia and mania are:· Usually someone who is mentally ill is hallucinating.· The person is grandiose or inflated in bragging about what they are hearing or seeing. (Statistically mentally ill people usually hear voices or what they are describing. They can see things but don’t usually.) They are not humbled by what they are describing.· The person cannot repeat the same story coherently.· They have not had good pre-episode functioning.· They cannot move out of the hallucinatory state they are in unless they are medicated.Also, it’s important to note that someone who is mentally ill could also be having a spiritual experience. It would take a team of professionals who understand both dynamics of psychotic and spiritual experiences to determine a treatment plan for this person.


Only 35% of the Mental Health Professionals who were researched during Dr. Herricks' survey stated they were able to recognize the difference between spiritual and psychotic experiences. The low percentage shows that more training is needed in the area of recognizing the above differences.I have had clients often tell me that before they came to see me neither doctors, ministers or priests have not been able to help them understand these spiritual experiences. I believe that understanding and becoming educated regarding these vast ranges of experiences will be a movement for many professionals in the near future.