It is the first time I’ve darkened the doors of a church since the funeral.
And today the reading is the first part of Matthew 18. Verse ten, as always, draws my attention, although I know that the vicar, good Protestant that he is, will not address it in his sermon.
I never used to think too hard about that. The guardian angels, I mean. Does everyone have them? Are they all so efficient? Do they all do their job adequately?
I forget when I found out that my own angel’s name is Daniel. He lost his faith some time ago. Maybe he wanted to do more than he could and fell short of his goals. Maybe he felt that circumstances thwarted his attempts to prosper and protect me. Maybe he was just lazy, but couldn’t see that, blaming everything but his own inaction. Did he do enough? I don’t know.
I imagine him as being like me, trying, but not trying too hard, bewailing the lack of breaks he got, the lack of opportunities which he really has no right to expect. Like me. Like Stormboy, flawed and perfect and marred by death and pain.
It came on the radio again this morning, as if to remind me of him, remind me that I am here to say goodbye.
And it felt like Sunday
And I called myself a Stormboy
And God said you weren't born boy
It never did me good
Daniel began to doubt his place and he began to doubt whether God had given him the power to achieve anything. And he achieved nothing. He began to wonder if he was just unlucky, surely a hard thing for an angel born into the sure knowledge of the providence of God to come to believe. But he did. He began to think that no justice could exist. He began to think that God either couldn’t do anything or didn’t care and wouldn’t.
I don’t know if Daniel is right. But right doesn’t have much to do with these things. Daniel lost his faith in himself, and then he lost his faith in God.
Oh no, you’re thinking, oh no, an angel can’t lose his faith in God, because where would that leave us?
And if you’re more theologically inclined, you’re thinking, how can this happen?
An angel has no free will. If an angel loses his faith, who can be responsible for that but God?
I don’t know about the theology of it. It wasn’t too long ago that it was all sure and sorted in my own head. Now I don’t know. But I know that Daniel made his own decision. No one compelled him. His failure to achieve was his own doing. His doubts were his own, and his loss of faith – that was his own.
Daniel didn’t notice when he fell. I don’t think he knows when it happened, just that one day he realised that God began to give him no time, no help, no notice, and that his praises to the Almighty began to be rote and parroted and empty. He had lost his faith and he fell. But he was still my angel, and he is still my angel now. He just carried on doing his job. He takes no joy in the work. But there is nothing else for him to do.
He walks back streets, the endless backlanes of my town, humming Stormboy to himself.
He’s still in denial, really. He can’t bring himself to look in the mirror most mornings. He can’t bring himself to take note of the way that the feathers on both pairs of wings have become charred and greasy like a well-used grill pan, and he won’t acknowledge that the teeth in the mouth of his calf’s head have become sharp and yellow.
Daniel still writes to his colleagues. He never saw them much to begin with, and they communicated a lot through letters. He writes to them now of his fears and the doubts which consume him. They don’t write back anymore. But he keeps on writing. He posts on Twitter. He leaves messages on walls.
I sometimes wonder why so much of what happens to the people we’re supposed to guard is so bad. Why are we so ineffectual?
I have not heard from you for some time now. I hope that all is well with you, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
I miss you.
He saw one of his colleagues a few weeks ago, in the distance, all light and halo and shining wings, looking down benevolently on his sleeping charge. Daniel looked down at himself and fingered one of his feathers, and he felt it come away in his hand, and he looked at it, and it was all black and filthy. He held it in a bony black-nailed hand that he couldn’t recognise as his own. So he hid. He ran away before the angel could see him.
Daniel has begun to find other people to blame. He has begun to wonder if this was my fault. He has begun to wonder if I’m not a hopeless case.
He is gradually beginning to hate me. If I won’t be helped, then why not just make me go down the path that I was always destined to do? So now he nudges my elbow. He tells me things to make me doubt myself and make me doubt my faith.
He calls himself a monster, and like everyone who takes the title upon themselves willingly, it is a way of idealising the banality of his failings, of granting them an element of heroism that they might not otherwise deserve.
And he kept me self-obsessed, so that I could not see that my friend was in need. So that I would blame myself when we all had to arrange a funeral, and it was too late.
He thinks it’s all my fault, you see. But it isn’t.
I think that maybe we deserve each other.
There are no explanations for any of this,
only things we cannot bring ourselves to say.
Only songs we cannot sing.