In the village of ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, there is a cathedral. Atop the spires and colonnades are statues of saints and angels, many of which are smiling faintly, as if they know all the answers to all the mysteries that vex us so.
One angel in particular has caused something of a stir in that small village. The newest one, erected only last April. Whereas all of its counterparts are garbed in the traditional flowing robes and wings, this one has been modernized with jeans, a laptop, and a cell phone.
It’s the cell phone that captured the attention of one particular husband and wife in the village. The wife especially. So much so, in fact, that she set up a number so people can call the angel. Sort of a heavenly lifeline.
The church, of course, frowned on such a development. They didn’t think it appropriate for anyone to be playing an angel. In their wisdom, however, the bishops decided to let things be. A good thing, that. Because now upwards of thirty people a day dial the angel’s number, and each are greeted by the voice of a very normal and very anonymous Dutch housewife who says, “Hello, this is the little angel.”
It’s all become somewhat of a phenomenon. The angel even now has his own Twitter account (@ut_engelke). Calls come from all sorts of people in all walks of life—old and young, rich and poor, happy and sad. Recently, a little girl called the angel for prayers for her dead grandmother. A widow called for prayers for her dead grandchildren.
The angel (I suppose that should be “angel”) answers them all. She listens. I doubt if much advice is given, but I have no doubt that’s a good thing. When people are hurting, what they need isn’t advice, it’s an ear to whisper into and a shoulder to lean upon.
I read about all of this the other day. It stuck in me. Not so much like a nagging pain. More like an itch you get deep in your ear that can’t be scratched. I couldn’t define that itch then. I think I can now.
What struck me wasn’t so much that somewhere in the Netherlands there exists a statue of an angel wearing jeans and holding a cell phone. Not even that in a tiny village there lives a woman who is now heaven’s answering service. No, what struck me was the number of people every day who call a number they know doesn’t point heavenward to speak to someone they know isn’t an angel, for no other reason than that they are hurting.
That they need help.
That, my friend, is a powerful thing.
I’ve long believed that joy is an individual thing; what makes me happy, what brings me peace and laughter, might not be what would bring those things to you. But when it comes to what makes us hurt, what makes us afraid, what keeps us up at night staring at a vacant ceiling, those things are the same. Maybe not exactly, but close enough.
Our hurts unite us.
They define us.
They make us not only human, but a family.
And if that’s the case, maybe we could all be angels, too.