Two months before our due date on a cool day in mid-October, my twin sister and I came charging into this world. Possibly because of this early trauma, I was born with mild Cerebral Palsy caused by Hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a chronic, often life-threatening condition in which there is excess Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) in the cranium.
The CSF was drained through two long straw-like shunts from my cranium into my abdomen when I was little, and this seemed to work very well. Unfortunately the shunts would occasionally get tangled, blocked, or stretched too thin when I was still growing. That has necessitated several operations throughout my life, especially in my early childhood. Before I was twelve years old, I had endured over 20 brain surgeries to treat my Hydrocephalus.
During this time, I had an experience that let me see things not everyone sees and feel things not everyone feels so young; the impression it made remains with me even now, as vividly as if it had happened overnight.
It was a sunny day in the late '80s. I was seven years old and this was not my first hospitalization. The light that slithered through the polyester blinds on the window of my hospital room window made everything feel warm--almost cozy. I was in my railed bed under a dim overhead light that cast an orange glow over the room. Today I felt safe and secure--for the moment--because not only was the room comfortable, but my Dad was in the chair beside me.
He was in a suit, since he always came to the hospital straight from work, and he smelled of the same cologne he always wore; piney and comforting and fatherly. I liked being alone with Dad and reveled in the attention he gave me, but I had other things on my mind that day. I wanted to ask my father something I'd just recently begun to wonder about, in the forefront of my mind because of my situation. "Dad, what is it like to die?" I asked.
He was very patient and kind in his answer; nothing ever seemed to faze him. "I don't know, Ame," he said, "I guess you just go to sleep and don't wake up." It was a very natural conversation, casual and unhurried, like the kind usually had over a good meal on a special occasion.
His answer satisfied me, and I settled back, gazing at my father through the bed rails as if to remember him. "Well," I said, "I know if I die, I'll always have you in my heart."
This is all I remember, because in the next moment I blacked out. I was having a seizure; my body shook and thrashed; I couldn't get the tingly feeling out of my limbs. My head was pounding with breathtaking intensity, but I couldn't really feel or hear anything around me. My mind did not make sense. I think I was saying "my legs are tingly," but I was probably just crying in that low, breathy way my mother still remembers. There were lights everywhere, and I was freezing. I knew I was lying down and that there were hands all around me, but I couldn't feel my bed, and the stranger doctors seemed far away.
Suddenly, the world changed. I was in my same hospital room, in the same bed, but it was quiet and dark. There was no sound, and over the guard rail I saw a man. He radiated calm.
His hair and beard were dark, and his skin was rough but golden. He was dressed in a white robe.
Neither of us spoke, but the look of love in his eyes instantly calmed me down. I could tell his hands were on the edge of my bed though I couldn't see them. His gesture made me feel safe and taken care of, even though I'd never seen this man before and he'd come to me when I had been in terrible pain. I looked into his serene eyes for the briefest second--and then the scene around me vanished back into reality.
My whole body was stiff with pain that prickled over my skin. A doctor I didn't recognize was bandaging my head, and I couldn't see my dad. Finally, whatever the doctors had done did the trick, and the nightmarish grand mal seizure subsided. To this day I remember vividly the feeling of my angel, as I have come to call him. He was not ethereal and surrounded by light as some have described angels. But he was simple, real, and undeniably holy. Whenever I feel alone or scared, I remember that he is near, staring down silently, his eyes filled with love.
I firmly believe that encounter was a precious gift. As an innocent child in unimaginable pain, I was allowed a glimpse of another world, and that has made me the person I am today. In a desperate moment in the hospital--a place of frequent desperation--my angel meant a sense of safety and protection.
As I've grown he has come to signify something bigger than all of us out there. It's nothing supernatural, nothing overpowering; it's a feeling of love for the whole human race. We are not alone, as I was not alone that day.
I believe that everyone has an angel as I do. And if at some time you find yourself at the height of despair, I am confident you will see what I have seen, and feel what I have felt. In these times of constant uncertainty and fear, the memory of my angel means more to me all the time. The encounter gave me an experience to cherish, a lesson to live by, and a world of perpetual hope.