The Angel at the Top of My Tree

The last ornament I put on my tree is the felt angel with blond hair made of yellow yarn and white wings on her back. Every year I’m amazed at how fresh and new she looks, despite her age of at least 40 years. But like all the ornaments on my tree, the angel has a story. 

            I was working as a special education kindergarten teacher in a local school, and I was lucky enough to have the help of a wonderful woman named Donna. I was in my mid-twenties and still a young married woman without children. So, while I was a competent teacher who cared deeply for my students and worked hard to help them learn, Donna, who was about ten years older, had the practical wisdom about children that can only come from one experience: being a mother. 

            Donna’s talents complemented mine beautifully—I planned the lessons and showed her my ideas for classroom materials, then Donna would set about making my bulletin boards or fashioning characters out of felt so that the students could create their own stories in the playhouse that Donna built.  I was neat and made sure the kids cleaned up all the time, but at the end of the day, Donna tidied up after me—straightening chairs and sharpening pencils for the next day. 

            Donna and I worked together for almost three years, and every Christmas we exchanged small gifts. We both loved to sew and were always making clothes, items for the home, or cross-stitching pictures.  I don’t remember what I gave Donna that year, but the morning of the last day before Christmas break, Donna handed me a gift bag and simply said, “For your tree.” 

Donna’s Angel

            I moved the tissue paper aside and smiled as I lifted out an angel made of felt and yarn. 

“Donna, she’s beautiful,” I said. “I have this pattern as well and have been making ornaments, but I didn’t make the angel.”

            And every year when I put the angel on the top of my tree, I think of Donna and appreciate the care she put into making this lovely ornament. I’m so grateful for her help and for the angel that reminds me of all that we shared. 

Courage for when the bridge is down

David Whyte has had a fascinating life. He grew up traipsing through the moors of Yorkshire, England and was pulled into the world of travel one day as he watched Jacques Cousteau on television. David’s work as a marine zoologist took him to the Galapagos Islands, and his curiosity took him  to the Himalayas where he explored temples and Zen Buddhism.  David uses all of his experiences when he writes poetry, even those that scared him.

The bridge you need to cross
The bridge you need to cross

How many times do you come to a place in your life where you are afraid to move forward? Where you’d rather do anything, no matter how difficult, than take that next step?  What resources can you call on to take you over that bridge? In this poem, David invites the reader to share his experience of an impossible bridge in the Himalayas. I hope you are inspired with the way he handles his challenge.

by David Whyte, from Fire in the Earth, 1992

Young, male, and
immortal as I was,
I stopped at the first sight
of that broken bridge.

The taut cables snapped
and the bridge planks
into a crazy jumble
over the drop,
four hundred feet
to the craggy

I sat and watched
the wind shiver
on the broken planks,
as if by looking hard
and long enough,
the life-line
might spontaneously
repair itself,
–but watched in vain.

An hour I sat
in silence,
checking each
involuntary movement
of the body toward
that trembling
with a fearful mind,
and an empathic
shake of the head.

Finally, facing defeat
and about to go back
the way I came
to meet the others.

Three days round
by another pass.

Enter the old mountain woman
with her stooped gait,
her dark clothes
and her dung basket
clasped to her back.

Small feet shuffling
for the precious
fuel for cooking food.

Intent on the ground
she glimpsed my feet
and looking up
said, “Namaste.”
“I greet the God in you”
the last syllable
held like a song.

I inclined my head
and clasped my hands
to reply, but
before I could look up,
she turned her lined face
and went straight across
that shivering chaos
of wood
and broken steel
in one movement.

One day the hero
sits down
afraid to take
another step,
and the old interior angel
limps slowly in
with her no-nonsense
and her old secret
and goes ahead.

you say
and follow.