Some years ago I was travelling alone on a book promotion tour around America, moving from city to city, hotel to hotel. One night, finding it hard to sleep, I randomly opened a Gideons Bible that was in the bedside drawer. These are provided free in every hotel across America.
Even though it wasn’t “our” Bible, I was struck by a quotation in Hebrews 13:2: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels, unawares.”
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels, unawares.”Hebrews 13:2
Hospitality has always been a Jewish tradition, too, since Abraham welcomed strangers to his tent in the desert, brought them water so that they could wash their feet, and bade Sarah prepare them a meal. His guests were later revealed to be angels.
How often in our lives have we said: “You’re an angel!” and meant it, to friends who have been there for us when we most needed them? As we grow older, we count our riches not in the number of material possessions, but the number of friends. We all have dozens of acquaintances, but true friends are a much rarer commodity, and they all started out as strangers.
My first “angel” was a Scottish woman I met in Australia. Her name was Esther Patterson, and she was a famous artist. I was 17, and she was the first person to treat me seriously as an adult.
I told her all about my dreams of being a writer, and she listened to me sympathetically, giving me her full attention. “You can be anything you want in life, if you have a dream and you hold on to it. There will always be people who will laugh at your dreams and even ridicule you, but have the strength to follow your star wherever it will lead you.”
She was my role model, one of the wisest women I ever knew. She was clairvoyant, and sometimes made startling predictions.
Before she died, and long before I had any remote idea that I would one day come to Jerusalem, she gave me a brooch. It was fashioned from an old coin with Arabic writing on it. It was not particularly suitable for a young girl, and she noticed me looking at it without great enthusiasm.
“One day you will live in the Middle East,” she told me simply. I laughed.
My novel Esther (soon to be republished) is dedicated to her memory, and I gave the brooch to my daughter-in-law who also happens to be named Esther.
Another “angel” I met in Israel was named Lou Adler. He wrote beautiful poetry and lived in Haifa. He was quite an old man when I met him, at a poetry meeting. He had written a poem about the Western Wall. Even though he was not religious in the traditional sense, he was deeply spiritual. He had a way of taking ordinary experiences and imbuing them with magic.
I’ve never forgotten something he said to me when I asked him how he found such goodness in people. He just smiled, and said: “I stand on the corner and watch all the poems walk by!”
Meeting new people is enjoyable. It is fascinating to hear their stories, compare origins and backgrounds, share some jokes, talk about your families. You can never tell if someone you invite into your home casually at first may be an angel in disguise. That person may one day become the one to whom you can pour out your troubles, share your dreams, assuage your loneliness, comfort your distress.
Some people firmly believe they have a personal Guardian Angel who can perform all kinds of miracles on their behalf, and who, hidden, walks beside them. I have always been a bit skeptical about such claims, preferring what Maimonides wrote in Guide for the Perplexed: “Everyone entrusted with a mission is an angel. All forces that reside in the body are angels.”
“Everyone entrusted with a mission is an angel. All forces that reside in the body are angels.”Maimonides
WHERE DO you meet angels?
It can be at the supermarket or the beauty salon; it can be an introduction by a mutual friend; it can be at a Scrabble club or an exercise class. It can be at the library or on a bus journey.
You start talking to each other, and you feel a sudden burst of warmth. You feel deprived when the conversation has to end.
“Here’s my phone number,” you say on impulse. “Call me, and maybe you’ll come over for coffee one morning.”
As simple as that. Perhaps you have just invited an angel into your home.
The older we get, the more we cherish a meeting of the minds. People may tell you it’s risky inviting a stranger, but, apart from family, everyone you have come to love in your life was once a stranger. And as the friendship grows and deepens, perhaps someone thinks of you as an angel, too, someone to bring laughter, hope and affection into their lives.
The more we reach out to people, the more love we collect to protect us against loneliness. In Israel, we meet scores of people every day, and everyone is family.
The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. Her personal favorite, Esther, is being reprinted and will again be available shortly. [email protected]