An Angel in Every House
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
It is a trite saying, and an unique one, that there is "a skeleton in every house." That every form however erect, that every face however smiling — covers some secret malady of mind that no physician can cure. This may be true, and undoubtedly is; but we contend that, as everything has its opposite, there is also an 'angel' in every house. No matter how fallen the inhabitants, how depressing their circumstances — there is an angel there to pity or to cheer. It may be in the presence of a wrinkled body, treading the downward path to the grave. Or, perhaps, in a cheerful spirit looking upon the ills of life as so many steps toward Heaven, if only bravely overcome, and mounted with pure feet.
We knew such an angel once, and it was a drunkard's child. On every side wherever she moved — she saw only misery and degradation, and yet she did not fall. Her father was brutal, and her mother discouraged, and her home thoroughly comfortless. But she struggled along with angel endurance, bearing with an almost saintly patience, the infirmities of him who gave her existence, and then hourly embittered it. Night after night, at the hours of ten, twelve, and even one — barefoot, ragged, shawlless, and bonnetless, has she been to the den of the drunkard, and gone staggering home with her arm around her father. Many a time has her flesh been blue with the mark of his hand when she has stepped in between her helpless mother and violence. Many a time has she sat upon the cold curbstone with his head in her lap; many a time known how bitter it was to cry for hunger, when the money that should have bought bread was spent for rum.
And the patience that the angel wrought with, made her young face shine, so that, though never acknowledged in the courts of this world, in the kingdom of Heaven she was waited for by assembled hosts of spirits, and the crown of martyrdom ready, lay waiting for her young brow.
And she was a martyr. Her gentle spirit went up from at couch of anguish — anguish brought on by ill-usage and neglect. And never until then, did the father recognize the angel in the child; never until then, did his manhood arise from the dust of its dishonor. From her humble grave, he went away to steep his resolves for the better in bitter tears; and he will tell you today, how the memory of her much-enduring life keeps him from the tavern; how he goes sometimes and stands where her patient hands have held him, while her cheek crimsoned at the sneers of those who scoffed at the drunkard's child.
Search for the angels in your households, and cherish them while they are among you. It may be that all unconsciously you frown upon them, when a smile would lead you to a knowledge of their exceeding worth. They may be among the least cared for, most despised; but when they are gone with their silent influence — then will you mourn for them as for a jewel of great worth.