TITLE: Earth Angels
By Helga Doermer
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Though I’ve called extraordinarily kind and considerate people ‘angels’, they had always been people who were a part of my community, or in some other way connected to either me or someone else in my circle of acquaintances. I knew they truly existed, had names, addresses and phone numbers, and if I wanted to, I could see them or speak to them again.
While traveling in Europe a few years ago, I discovered angels of another kind. They were the kind who looked like strangers in passing – people I would not have ordinarily noticed. Or, had I been fleetingly aware of their existence, their faces would have been forgotten in the instant our paths went different ways. These angels were just as transitory. I couldn’t be sure they were really earthlings, for it seemed they appeared in the moment they were needed and then were forever gone again.
These earth angels were our good fortune, for neither my friends nor I were well-seasoned travelers. One of the women spoke French fluently enough to make our needs understood in France. Germany was another matter. And so it was while traveling in Germany that we ran into a few challenges.
The first was on the train going back to Germany. We discovered that our train tickets were not open ended. That is, they had a specific destination, which caused something of a dilemma as two of us had changed our travel plans and needed to change our tickets. We assumed the porters on the train would be trilingual. However, when the porter came, we realized that the ticket change was not going to be that simple. We soon discovered he neither understood English or French. He only spoke and understood German. We were at a loss. Unexpectedly, another voice broke into our conversation.
It was the voice of a quiet young man who shared our compartment. He had totally ignored us from the moment we took our seats, and we assumed that there must either be a language barrier or that he resented our intrusion. At that moment, he addressed us in English and offered to be our translator. Gratefully, we accepted. With the fortuitous help of our translator, the porter was able to tell us that he could not make the ticket changes and that it would have to be changed at the Frankfurt station. He also communicated that time was of the essence as there were only ten minutes between the arrival of this train and the departure of the next.
At the Frankfurt station, the lineups at the counters were unbelievably long. There must have been at least thirty people waiting in each line and they were moving at a snails pace. We took our place, fretfully wondering out loud how we could possibly change our tickets and make the train within the few minutes we had left. We were in need of another miracle. Suddenly an elderly gentleman appeared at my friend’s elbow. He drew her from the line and walked away with her. Startled by his action, I stepped from the line to follow. I wasn’t about to let my friend disappear with a stranger in a city we didn’t know. Within a moment, his intent became apparent. He guided my friend to a newly opened wicket. The women behind the counter dealt with our dilemma expediently. When we turned around to thank him, he wasn’t there.
My friend and I got on our train and found seats across from a young man who appeared to be sleeping. Across the aisle, I spied a train schedule. With the hope that it would tell us how long to our destination and how many stops in between, I picked it up. My friend and I studied the schedule carefully, and determined that we had about half an hour. We were just settling in for the ride, when the man across from us suddenly opened his eyes.
In the next instant, he politely took the schedule from my hands. With gestures and a few words of English, he corrected our assumption. He informed us that we were not on a regular train, but on a fast train that only made a few stops. The next stop was ours and we would be there in less than ten minutes. My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief and then at him wondering if we had heard him right. He again pointed at the symbol for the fast train, then at our destination and the time. We looked at our watches and realized we had just enough time to collect our belongings and make our way to the door. We gathered our bags and said goodbye to our third angel.
Our last challenge was to find our way back to the airport after our vacation was done. We experienced a few tense moments, finding the train back to Frankfurt. We found it and boarded it just seconds before it rolled from the station. Shaking with the close call, we determined that we would develop a strategy to find the next platform in Frankfurt – the one that would get us on the airport train. As we considered how we could orient ourselves to the station, a middle aged man, sitting across from us, interrupted. With a few succinct words, he told us that he was also heading for the airport, and offered to be our guide. With his help, we made the next train without incident.
At no time did we consider that finding our way around at the airport might also be a challenge. When we got off the train, we watched our guide disappear up an escalator, and then we looked around us expecting big signs to point out the check- in counter for our Canadian flight. Within a few minutes, we were overwhelmed with the magnitude of the place, didn’t see any tell-tale signs and realized we were lost. It was then we saw our angel again. He stood at the top of the escalator and motioned to us to join him there. When we reached him, he asked to see our flight information. We hesitated for only a moment and then pulled it out. Once more he directed us, wished us well and walked away.
We checked our luggage, confirmed our seats, walked over to our gate, bought coffee and sat down to wait for our flight. For a few moments we didn’t speak. Then it was as if we both suddenly needed to address the unusual number of chance events over the past few days. It was not to be believed. We looked at each other with amazement, and in tones of wonder began to recount the many unexpected interventions by unforeseen strangers.
Neither of us had ever experienced such timely help by people we didn’t even know. We were amazed at how they had befriended and guided us at critical times throughout our travels. We wondered out loud whether our angels had been real people with earth addresses, or if they were fleeting figures sent from heaven to guide us in a foreign place.
The only things we knew for sure were that we had neither names, nor contact information, and that we would never meet any of them again. One other thing we knew. Whether our angels were ordinary people or angelic beings in disguise, would forever remain a mystery.
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