“I called you two here as it’s time for Toby to get her ‘permanents’ and in order to so, she must complete her earthly challenge of two nights without any major complaints. Is that clear Gus?” asked St. Michael, addressing the angel Gustavus by his more commonly used name. Gus understood ‘permanents’ meant elevation to permanent angelic status and it was a promotion to which every probationary angel strived. The archangel Michael thought about all the others who had completed the assigned challenges to earn their ‘permanents.’
Gus had his work cut out for him with Toby.
Toby had received her probationary wings more than two hundred years ago at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham when she whispered ‘words of life’ into the ears of soldiers who’d given up hope of living. Toby was struggling getting to the next level, permanent wings. Gus got his when William the Conqueror reformed the British nobility with the Domesday Book. Gus had been the voice of inspiration for William’s notch of liberalization of English society. For that, he received his ‘permanents.’ But since then he had not received a promotion to the next angelic level, archangel status and over a thousand years had passed. Toby would be his chance to move up the angelic ladder.
But Toby was a challenge. She was as good hearted as any angel could be. She loved fully and without conditions but she had one tiny flaw. She just couldn’t help but complain a little about anything she encountered. “God could have done it in six days, if He hadn’t taken time off to rest. Noah should have swatted those two pesky mosquitos. Eve should have tried the bananas first. I don’t like snakes.”
Toby was going to be Gus’ challenge: could Gus get Toby to just button her lip and accept things as they were or better yet, to find the bright side to everything? She just couldn’t resist criticizing anything she saw, heard, or experienced. No angel worth her value to the heavenly congregations could be a complainer thought Michael, whereas Gus saw it as a miracle in the making if he succeeded.
Then, Michael asked, “OK Gus, you ready to go? How about you Toby? Lips sealed, heart open?” The earthbound duo nodded their heads in assent and poof, there they were trudging through the snow of Toronto, Canada, along Bayview Avenue near the Bridle Path to be more exact.
“Heavens, it’s really snowing, Gus,” lamented Toby.
“Toby, have you forgotten that quickly? No whining, no complaining. It’s a great winter’s night here in Canada’s biggest city. It’s a beautiful night, crispy cold, frosty fresh. Nice isn’t it!”
“Well, we could have drawn a better assignment, someplace like Miami, or Havana or even somewhere in Mexico where it’s warmer, sunnier and a lot more inviting than here in stormy Canada.”
Gus simply shook his head recognizing how tough this assignment was going to be.
“And another thing, I don’t know why we have to lose so much of our angelic power. We can’t fly. We have to eat. We feel the cold. We still keep our telepathic communicating ability, much good it will do us as we can just talk to each other. And only one angelic super power act permitted for each of us. This is one darn hard assignment, if you ask me.”
Gus bit his lip in restraint.
The agenda the duo had drawn was to spend two winter nights Toronto with two financially different families, one very rich, the other significantly poor. They were to spend one night at each family’s home with no criticizing or complaining about these humans or how they lived. For Gus, it was no challenge but for Toby who was always trying to find the better side of everything, it was an enormous one.
This was night number one.
Gus and Toby turned onto the Bridle Path just past the Conrad Black mansion. Black had been declared persona non grata in the heavenly books because he had cooked his own company books. So the angelic duo passed on his address. Soon, they were in front of another huge mansion which belonged to a very well known Austrian manufacturing magnate, an old man now, in his early eighties and still very ornery to everyone. Gus pointed at the house, “Here we are Tob’. Let’s go.”
The mansion belonged to an incredibly wealthy family, among the richest in Toronto if not all of Canada, maybe even North America. They had earned their wealth through manufacture and through astute IPO investments during the downturn of the economy in the 1990’s. They made a fortune but all the profit making did not embellish Fred Stanger’s grumpy persona. He was still the orniest of big time magnates living in Toronto. Even when his beautiful daughter Brenda, the love of his life, was born, an event everyone thought would mellow Fred some. They erred for Fred remained as crotchety an ogre as ever. Nor did the enormous wealth do anything to temper Fred’s abrasive personality. Nothing did.
The two angels approached the huge double doors of the enormous and elegant mansion. Toby rang the bell. Within moments, a butler answered. “Yes,” he queried.
Gus responded, “We are in need of shelter for the night. Could you accommodate us?” The butler told the angelic partners to wait without even inviting them into the warm atrium of the house.
Toby couldn’t help himself, and in a low voice said, “I know it isn’t charitable to say this, but if the butler is any indication, this family must be very cold toward people. Look at the kind of night it is and we’re left standing here in the cold.” The two angels waited outside, shivering just as if they were human.
The door re-opened. The butler declared, “The master says he doesn’t do accommodation for strangers. Please leave the property.” Toby was shocked. Gus was dismayed but he had an agenda to complete, so he insisted, “Please sir, just a space for two tired and hungry travellers to lay their head for one night.” The butler again closed the door. Gus bowed his head as if in prayer. Toby shook his. A few minutes later, the butler opened the door wide and beckoned the two angels inside and with a crook’d finger. He led them down a long hallway, opened a door, and they saw a set of steep stairs descending to the basement of the mansion. Again, down another long hallway, the trio walked on and on until finally they reached a flat grey painted door. “You can stay here for the night, but the master wants you out early tomorrow morning.”
Gus thanked the butler and nodded agreement to the demand. Toby continued to nod and shake his head in incredulity as to how they were being treated.
The room was grey masonry, dank and gloomy, with a beat up couch on one side of the room and worn and tattered lazy boy chair on the other. Toby continued shaking his head, “I can’t believe this. Did you see how beautiful this house is up stairs? Look what we get. He’s got a lot of nice rooms upstairs that would have been much more suitable for us than this hovel.”
Gus responded, “It’s ok. We’re inside for the night.”
The two angels took to the couch and chair, examining the room and wondering how such a room would exist in such a beautiful home. The room was drab, dismal, dimly lit by a single bare bulb hanging from the center of the ceiling.
“What a dump!” continued Toby in a near whine of a complaint, “We deserve better than this. Look there’s even a hole in the wall over there.”
Gus walked over to the wall with the hole, peered through and then swiped his hand over the ragged hole using up the one opportunity of angelic power he was permitted on this two day earthly visit. Miraculously, the hole was re-cemented and set solidly in an instant.
Toby queried, “Why did you do that Gus? We’re doing repair work for wealthy people now? People who won’t even give us a warm room for the night!”
Gus replied, “Shh Toby, you can’t criticize things like that or you may not earn your wings, you know. Besides, things aren’t always as they seem.”
The next morning, to the surprise of the two angels, the door to the room opened very suddenly and the butler declared, “It’s time for you to go!”
Down the long corridor and up the steep flight of stairs the butler walked with the pace of the aged. The two angels quietly followed behind him, their feet normally would have been floating along the floor, but as they were “on agenda,” they were relegated to trudging along behind the butler who never gave them a second glance.
As the two angels moved along the main corridor toward the front door, they saw the dining room and an old man seated at the head of the table, eating with gusto. He looked up at the two angels, said nothing and resumed eating with what looked like a ravenous appetite. Toby shook her head in amazement and was about to say something; Gus quieted her quickly with a raised index finger to his lips.
The two angels resumed their spiritual journey.
“Well, I’m glad that’s over with,” whined Toby. Gus bit his lip. Even an angel’s patience limits.
Now, the second night and the angels slogged along Queen St. East, snow falling steadily. The was the downtown core of Toronto, old housing, dilapidated storefronts, and street people haggardly standing in doorways almost everywhere they looked. At Sherbourne St. they saw the long line of homeless people single filed outside the Salvation Army shelter.
Toby opined, “That’s terrible. There is so much wealth in Toronto and just look at that line of people looking for a bed and a warm place to stay for the night.”
“Shh Toby, ours is not to criticize or complain for others either. We have another agenda to fulfull. So let’s move on.”
The duo came to the door of a run-down house, likely more than 50 years old, built during the war.
“Wow, you think they are going to have a place for us, Gus?”
Gus knocked on the door as the two angels looked out at the house’s back yard from its porch. They spotted a couple of chickens and a small goat. Gus’ request to the old man who opened the door was same as the previous night, a place to stay for the night.
“Please come in,” said the old man, “I am sorry we don’t have much to offer you but I have an empty room at the back of the house. It’s dry and warm enough even with the large window facing the back yard. My wife is making some supper and you are welcome join us. Come in, come in.”
“Well that’s better,” said Toby. “But I doubt they have very much.”
Again, Gus shushed the younger angel. Supper was very simple: roasted root vegetables, some boiled chicken, and goat’s milk cheese.
The old man’s wife apologized for the simple supper while cutting two more slices of bread for the angels. Gus ate solemnly. Toby ate with verve considering they had not eaten anything at the mansion last night.
Gus nudged Toby’s knee when Toby reached out for another slice of cheese. Angels don’t normally eat but as Gus repeatedly said an agenda was being fulfilled and eating was on the list of todo’s. The knee nudge was Gus’ way to admonish Toby for eating so much of the the poor couple’s food.
The wife, again with much apologizing, showed the two angels to the back room. They entered and saw it was dry and warm enough. They looked out at the back yard and saw the chickens and the goat tethered to a fence post. Toby thought, ‘Not much for angels who deserve better.’ While Gus just sent up a prayer of thanks. The lady bid them both a good night, promising to wake them early for some breakfast. Then she quietly closed the door.
The next morning, Toby looked out the back window. “Oh no,” he exclaimed, “The goat! The old man is burying the goat. It must have died during the night.” The duo came into the kitchen where they saw the small kitchen table set for them with slices of toast and a small mound of goat cheese. Again, the couple seemed apologized for the humble offerings. A small Melitta coffee maker was brewing on the stove.
The woman seated at the breakfast table was sobbing quietly. Toby asked, “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” The poor woman just sobbed a little more loudly while the old man responded, “Our poor old goat died last night. She gave us milk and we even made cheese. But now we’ve lost her.”
Toby was beside himself, not quite angry; angels were never to show anger, but definitely upset. He could hardly telepathize his thoughts to Gus, “What is this? What’s going on? This is terrible. Last night we stayed at a rich family’s. They had everything and yet you helped them doing repair work. Tonight, we’re treated as best as this poor family can treat us. They have next to nothing, yet shared as much as they could with us and you let their most important asset die. What’s the matter with you? How could you let this happen?”
Gus just bowed his head in quiet supplication at table but telepathically replied, “Toby, things aren’t always as they seem. When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was a seam of undiscovered gold in the earth visible through the hole in the wall. That rich family didn’t deserve to discover and claim that find. That owner was too selfish and lacking in generosity. So I sealed the wall so no one would ever discover that gold ever. Then last night as we slept in this old couple’s home, the angel of death came for his wife. I renegotiated the angel’s agenda. He relented and accepted the goat as replacement for the wife. So you see things aren’t always what they seem, Toby. You just need to trust that every outcome for it may be to your advantage if you have faith and trust. You just might not know it until sometime later…and one last thing Toby. Love more, complain less…so that you can keep your wings for many centuries to come. God bless.”
Toby bowed his head realizing how wrong she had been with her borderline criticisms and complaints. She acknowledged her unangelic behaviour and swore an oath to always keep her faith and trust As she made this promise, beautiful harp music began to play and bells over at St. Michael’s cathedral began to peel. Then to Toby’s amazement, two huge wings floated down into the room and attached themselves to her shoulders. Toby added to her vow, “I promise to become a roving guardian angel of optimism. I will help teach people that if they have faith and trust, they will see everything more positively and I will teach them that if they have faith and trust, they will see that life really is wonderful. But we must open our hearts first.”
Toby then snapped his fingers and flicked a finger in the direction of the backyard. A sparkle of gold invisibly flew from his fingertips. “There,” said Toby using up the one angelic super act she was permitted while ‘on assignment.’ A goat’s bleat, loud and clear, came through the paper thin walls of the house.
Gus smiled. He did it. Toby got her ‘permanents.’ His task was complete and a success. He smiled even more knowing that cathedral bells ringing meant another angelic agenda had been successfully completed and another angel had just received ‘permanents.’