When I was little, I heard lots of stories about angels—the heavenly creatures that brought good tidings and protected children from harm. When I learned to read, I fell in love with fairy tales and fairy godmothers. I just loved reading about magical spirit people. The stories were comforting; they made me feel hopeful and safe. As they have for millions of children throughout the ages. And adults. Oh, yes.
Stories about angels and spirit people are very, very old. Some social scientists claim that they may be as old as the wheel and writing. They appear in the folklore of societies and cultures around the world. They’re abundant and ubiquitous—in the Bible, in mythology, in spiritual teachings, and yes, in fairy tales. They are part of our collective consciousness.
Do you ever wonder how or why these stories became so important to the human psyche? From what well did they spring? Were they all just the imaginary constructs of their authors, or were some—or most of them— rooted in actual spiritual experiences?
While you think about that one, let me tell you about something that happened to me recently.
This past summer, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was lucky. It was caught early; the tumor was relatively small, and it was, to used my surgeon’s word, lazy. She removed the tumor and one lymph node, to which it had spread, and the margins. Protocol called for the surgery to be followed by radiation. Radiation was a lot more daunting. The procedure was demanding. I had to lie flat on a table, arms above my head, underneath a gigantic…machine…while a breathing tube (something like a scuba tube) was placed in my mouth and hooked up to a computer. My nose was then clamped shut. I was given goggles through which I could watch my breathing on the computer screen.
After the machine was lowered into target range, two horizontal black lines appeared on the computer screen, and I could see my breaths as vertical lines—going up and down, up and down, up and down, as I inhaled and exhaled into the tube. I was instructed to keep inhalations and exhalations within the two black lines. Eventually, a large green line appeared at the top of the screen, and I was told to breathe up, up, up into the green line and hold my breath there for 23 seconds. Let me assure you that 23 seconds is a long time. This holding pattern is when radiation actually takes place, and it is done three times during a session.
I wondered why, before the procedure, I was continually asked if I had claustrophobia. All of a sudden, I understood why. A gigantic machine hovers low over you. Your eyes, nose, and mouth are sealed. You’re in a lead-lined room alone. Technicians are operating the machine on computers in an anteroom, observing you through a window.
Let me stop right here and note that the three technicians who treated me were not only highly skilled, but may also be the kindest people I’ve ever met. God bless them.
But the procedure is still claustrophobic and intimidating. I mean, it’s going to burn you, after all!
I got it wrong a few times on the initial trial run, but with a little practice and help from the crew, I sort of got the hang of it. I can do this, I thought. I was anxious but ready for the next morning, when the radiation treatments would actually start.
Just before I left for the hospital, I got a phone call from a beloved friend who was living in another country. In a strange, over-controlled voice, she told me that her daughter had died. Suicide. We talked for a few minutes, and then I had to leave for the hospital.
On the table, with the tube in my mouth and my nose clamped shut, I lost my breath. I tried and failed, tried and failed, tried and failed. I didn’t have enough breath to get within the black lines, and getting it up to the green line and holding it seemed all but impossible. This girl’s death and my friend’s shock and grief had reactivated the loss of my son Eddie. Somehow, with a lot of patience and coaching from the crew, I managed my first three radiation treatments. I went home in tears, weak, exhausted, devastated for my friend, and feeling my old grief.
I dreaded the next day. I still had 21 days on that table ahead of me and didn’t know how I was going to make it. I arrived early, nervous and edgy. Sitting in my hospital gown in the empty waiting room, I decided to meditate. Against the odds, I managed to sink into a deep meditation. In seconds, I had a vision. Two Buddhist monks were walking toward me. One was young and wore round eyeglasses. The other was older and resembled the Dalai Lama. They came right up to me and the older one seemed to walk right into my body while the younger one stood by my side. The technician called my name, I opened my eyes, and entered the treatment room.
On the table, the tube in my mouth once again, my nose clamped shut, the older monk and I started to breathe together, in and out, in and out, in and out, as one body. Calmly. Evenly. In sync. I focused on him and him alone, feeling him breathing through my chest. I watched the screen as we directed our breath to the space between the two black lines, and when it was time, we sent our breath into the green line and held it for 23 seconds. We did this three times. I hardly noticed the whirr of the machine as it sent radioactive energy into the spot where the cancer had been. The technicians were amazed. “You aced it,” they told me, relieved and happy.
Every day, for 20 more days, I would close my eyes in the waiting room and call on my spirit friends, and they would come, dressed in maroon robes and smiling. Every day, the older monk would fade into my body and we would breathe into the tube, while the younger one looked on. I got the distinct feeling that I was with a master of breathing meditation and a young monk who was his student.
Sometimes at night, before I go to sleep, I can still see them. Someone very close to me has breathing problems, and every night, I ask them to go to her. My friend and I continue to grieve together, talk together, and heal together.
Angels, spirit guides, teachers, ascended masters, fairy godmothers and godfathers. Call them what you will, but there are loving beings who are with us at all times, always coming closer in times of sadness or fear. Sometimes they appear with wings, sometimes in sparkling dresses with magic wands and glass slippers, sometimes as an Egyptian high priest, or as a Buddhist monk in a maroon robe. Some of them may have lived on the earth; others never have. You may see them as twinkling lights, or you may not see them at all. But when you need help, or when you call on them, you will sense a sweet presence, and you’ll know they’re there.
Be glad. Believe. All those storytellers can’t be wrong.