Inexplicably, I woke up about an hour early. Just as inexplicably, I decided not to try to go back to sleep. Instead, I rolled out of bed, got dressed, and started my day. That’s how I got a chance at being an angel.
My poodle-mix mutt and I start each day with a walk through the neighborhood. We take the same route most workdays, so we tend to greet the same people each morning—the bearded man riding his bike, the red-haired woman with her matching Irish setter, and various paper delivery people zipping in and out of driveways.
But today we were out an hour early, so I was not surprised to see an unfamiliar character shuffling down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. I was surprised, however, when he answered my friendly “Good morning” with a loud wail.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
He answered by loudly confessing that he had been drinking all night and was on his way home.
“Ok,” I said. “Do you know where you live? Can you find your way home?”
He ignored my question and told me that his mother had just died. That’s why he had been drinking. I expressed my condolences, though it felt inappropriate to be yelling them across the street at 5:15am.
“What am I going to do?” my new friend wailed again.
I crossed the street toward him, mainly to bring down the volume of our conversation and minimize disturbing the neighbors. “How ’bout if I help you get home,” I told him. “Do you know where you live?” He assured me that he did.
We began shuffling eastward, stopping frequently as he thought of new shortcomings to confess to me. He hadn’t been a perfect son. Then he stopped walking and faced me intently, swaying and saying, “Is God going to forgive me?”
“Yes,” I smiled. “He loves you.”
The man seemed overwhelmed at this idea, and he began crying. And of course I felt bad about his obvious grief, but all his interactions had an Otis Campbell-like quality that kept me on the verge of laughter.
Suddenly “Otis” grasped my hand and asked in drunken hopefulness, “Are you an angel?”
I laughed and said, “C’mon, it’s time for you to go home.”
He would not be put off. He shuffled a few more steps, but then demanded again, “Are you an angel?”
I smiled, sighed, and made a decision. “Yes,” I told him.
The effect was more than I could have hoped for. Otis gasped and stepped back. “YOU ARE? YOU REALLY ARE?” Then, swaying again, he raised his arms and looked heavenward, “GOD, DID YOU REALLY SEND ME AN ANGEL?” He turned his attention again to me. “Why did God send me an angel?” he wondered, crying.
I stepped into the role and delivered this message: “He wants you to know He loves you.”
“He does?” Otis whimpered.
“Yes,” I affirmed. And then I ad-libbed, “He knows that caring for your mom wasn’t easy, but He gave you that assignment because He knew you could handle it. And He knows you did your best.”
At this, Otis broke down and fell to his knees, praying as sincerely as his inebriation would allow—not to me, but to the God he remembered from what sounded like a well-churched upbringing. He thanked Jesus for dying on the cross. He begged forgiveness for all his failings. He promised not to get drunk anymore.
After a minute or two, I helped him to his feet. We had reached his driveway by this point, so I pointed him toward his front door and told him to go sleep for a while. “But when you wake up,” I added, “don’t forget what we talked about. You’re going to be confused when you try to remember what happened, but it’s all true. Don’t forget that God loves you.”
He nodded, wiped the tears from his face, and went indoors.
I don’t know how much of a compliment it is to be mistaken for an angel by a grieving drunk, and I don’t know if Otis remembered any of our conversation later. Whether or not he did, the experience was a blessing for me. I laughed all the way home, and in the coming days I told the story more than once.
Do I really believe I’m an angel? Not exactly. Angels are spiritual beings, though perhaps they take on human form sometimes. Still, angels are messengers or agents of God—and so am I, though sometimes I’m less intentional about this work than I should be.
Maybe God woke me up early that day and sent an angel named Otis to remind me of that.