Gift From a Stranger

I loaded paper towels, detergent, and shampoo onto the moving belt at the cash register at Walmart. Just outside the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the store a magpie perched on a sign. A bluebird sky promised a great day. Scanning my items, a middle-aged clerk was efficient as she placed them in plastic bags on a turn-style at the end of the moving belt.  She wore jeans with a red and white flowered blouse. Glasses had fallen down the bridge of her nose, and grey-brown curly hair was shoulder length. She focused intently on her work as she captured and scanned each item, paying attention only to the moving belt.

My phone rang inside my purse. I usually didn’t answer when checking out at a store, but thought I’d check to see if someone needed immediate attention. It was my friend, a teacher who, at that time, would be in class. This could not be good, I thought.

“Hi, What’s up?” I asked, knowing that if she was calling from school, it would have to be a quick call.

“Linda!” was all she could get out amid sobs. “Linda, something terrible has happened.” And then more desperate crying.

“What? What happened? Are you okay? Are your kids okay? Tell me! Tell me!” Panic ran cold fingers up and down my spine and made my throat tight. She didn’t stop crying.

The clerk finished scanning my order and signaled that I should give her my credit card or somehow pay. I held up my index finger signaling to wait a minute. She began to pile the bags into my empty cart when my friend was finally able to speak.

Shaking words came out, “Linda, when I got to school this morning, I got a call from the hospital. Brian was in a wreck on his way to school. He’s on life support in intensive care. It’s not good. They’re trying to stabilize him.” More sobbing. “When I got there, he was unconscious—a big head wound, bleeding legs, shoulder, head! There was so much blood—everywhere! I’ve never seen so much blood! Bill is in New York and I haven’t been able to reach him.”

I came to my senses. “What do you need me to do? I can drive over there now. I can pick up Jennifer and Louise after school. Keep them if you want me to. I can help, do whatever you need. I am so sorry. This is so terrible for you.”

“I have to go—nurse calling me. I’ll call you back later.”

And then my tears began. Brian was the son every parent wanted: kind, caring, gentle, an honor student, president of his class. I needed to be ready to do whatever I could when she called back. I handed my credit card to the clerk, and she gave me the receipt to sign.

The clerk had waited patiently while I was on the phone. She handed me a tissue from a box by her register. “I know something terrible has happened in your life and I am truly sorry,” she said. 

She reached up to one side of her hair and unclipped several dark grey feathers that I hadn’t noticed until then. “Something horrific happened to me several years ago,” she said, and someone gave me these feathers to clip in my hair. They are feathers from dark angels, angels that are warriors, angels that protect us during hard times. Please give these to the people in your life who are troubled right now. Tell them that they are feathers from warrior angels.  They were passed on to me by someone who said, ‘One day, you will meet someone else who needs the help of warrior angels. Please pass these feathers on when you meet that person.’ I have had these feathers for more than five years, wash and dry them regularly, and wear them occasionally. I am glad to help, even in this very small way.”

I was overwhelmed by this gesture of kindness from a stranger. The feathers were soft and obviously cared for with gentle hands. In my mind, angels were wonderful story book images, inspired by imagination and creativity. I knew my friend would see them, not in a religious sense, but in a similar way. But whether angels are part of a heavenly sphere, or part of a creative imagination, those dark feathers, a gift from a stranger, symbolized empathy, caring, and love.

I gave those feathers to my friend later that day after I picked up her children at school. She had come home from the hospital when Brian had stabilized. Even though the feathers and their story brought tears and high emotion, she gladly clipped them into her hair.

 As Brian recovered, his mother gave him the feathers and told him of their origin. When he was recuperating, he called to say thank you. His voice broke as he expressed how touched he was by this gift of strength from a stranger. Later he told me that the feathers went with him to college and that he was prepared to pass them on to someone in need of a warrior angel.

Linda LundgrenComment