One morning, I was cleaning the counter while a pie was baking, wondering why my little girl hadn’t been sitting in her usual spot. I couldn’t imagine what was more important than sneaking a scrap of dough or insisting that I use more cinnamon. She didn’t come downstairs when I called to her; she just answered with a distant, “In a minute.” Not at all what I expected to hear.
Finally, she trudged into the kitchen and climbed up on a stool, her favorite Boo Bear in tow, and heaved a sigh so heavy the counter shook as if she had just dropped a 100-pound weight in front of me. I went about my cleaning knowing that I wouldn’t need to coax an explanation of her troubles from her; she’d share it with me eventually. She always did.
“Mamma, Mizzie said there’s no such thing as black angels.”
“Sure there are,” I told her. “Why wouldn’t there be?”
She wrinkled her nose at me in frustration. Clearly torn between what her big sister had told her and my insistence in the contrary, Annie didn’t know what to think. She sat in silence for a few minutes until the dizzying thoughts that were stirring about in her head burst out in the form of another question.
“Then what color are angels?”
Children ponder the strangest things, but I suppose this was a fair question. I hadn’t actually given it much thought before, so an answer didn’t quickly come to mind. I wasn’t sure what to tell her, so I mentioned a dream I once had about angels instead.
“I don’t remember what color the angels were, but their wings were all white and silvery with traces of different colors like red and green and yellow.”
Annie looked at me like I had lost my mind.
“I know their wings are different colors, just like the birds.”
This time her whole face seemed to bunch up in a wrinkly mess, exasperated with my inability to provide a truth she could believe in. That’s when I saw it, the tears starting to well up, turning her hazel eyes a bright green. I knew she was mad at Mizzie. I could just imagine the words that flew between the two of them, Annie standing her ground and her sister taunting her with the opposite of whatever she’d said. That’s when I realized what had my little girl so upset.
I brushed the flour from my hands and reached across the counter to dry her eyes. When her lower lip began to tremble, I knew the water works weren’t far behind. I took Annie’s hand and led her over to the kitchen table. She climbed up onto my lap, gave Boo a choke-hold hug with one arm, and rested her head on my shoulder while I spoke.
“Do you remember what I read to you about how God had created man in His own image?”
Annie nodded her head and sniffled.
“And you know that people come in all colors, right?” I asked.
Annie lifted her head to look at me and there it was – that hopeful look you see in your child’s eyes when she needs an encouraging word, that look of yearning for the truth and comfort in knowing you won’t keep it from her. That trust always seemed a little undeserved, but I always gave it as honest a response as I knew how.
“Well, I imagine the same is true for angels,” I said.
She hesitated, but I knew Annie was formulating another question.
“But… if people and angels are all different colors, does that mean that God is all those colors mixed up? Or is God striped… or is there a different god for each color? And what about…”
Her confused voice trailed off as the tears started again. I knew what her last question was going to be and it had nothing to do with the color of people or angels or even God. She wanted to know who was looking after her best friend in all the world.
“Oh, Sweetie,” I whispered. “Your Teddy is being cared for and loved by all the angels. He’s the luckiest doggy in heaven. They play with him so it doesn’t hurt so much when he misses you. And they know that their hugs aren’t anything like the hugs you used to give him, but they love him anyway.”
“But Mamma, I miss him so much it hurts!”
“I know. I miss him too, and so does Mizzie.”
Annie buried her head in my shoulder. I rocked her as she cried, trying to comfort her as best as I could. Words just couldn’t explain away the pain. Her sobbing stopped with another sigh, one that came this time following a staggered breath of sadness. She peered up at me with trails of tears rolling down her rosy cheeks and sat up straight. With balled up fists of tiny fingers, she tried to rub the loneliness from her eyes and she thanked me.
Her sadness broke my heart and I would have done anything to take away her grief. We sat there for a while in silence, her head resting once again on my shoulder. Finally, Annie leaned back and an embarrassed smile tugged at her lips as she asked me one more question.
“Is the pie ready yet?”
“The Color of Angels” a short story, copyright 2015 by J.D. Hanning
Photo credit: Altered version of Sympathy, 1877 by Briton Riviere (1840-1920) and Christmas angel from Pixabay. Used with permission via creative commons.