Angels with Us Unawares
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"Dear mamma, I love you," says the baby-boy, clasping his white arms lovingly about her neck, and receiving her kiss in return. Helpless little creature! It will be long indeed, before he will realize a mother's self-denying tenderness, her concern about his future, her pain when he suffers, her regret when he does wrong, and her happiness when he does well.
She does not tell him now, that with aching head and weary fingers, she has watched him through long days and nights of illness, when death seemed hovering over his pillow, ready to snatch him away, if even for one moment she forgot her charge; and with what agonizing earnestness she prayed, "O! Father, spare him, if consistent with Your will!"
She does not tell him now, for he is too young to comprehend, even in a measure, the height and breadth and depth of maternal love. He only knows her bosom is his pillow, her arms his shield, and that from her hands, his hourly needs are supplied.
But if it comes to be his lot to gaze upon her sweet face, cold in the drapery of death, to miss her smile, and long in vain for her caress; then, when others part his silken hair, without the accustomed kiss; when others take him coldly by the hand, and lead him to his cradle-bed, and hear his infant prayer, as a mere act of duty; then, while their careless "good-night" is still chiming in his ears as a bitter mockery; then he will fling out his tiny arms, and clasp the empty air in search of that soft hand which lingered so lovingly about his pillow, and realize that "an angel" has been with him "unawares."
"Thank you, father!" says the young girl, bounding away with her hand clasped upon the means with which to purchase some elegant article of dress, forgetting in her wild happiness how much she is already indebted to him. Little does she realize the toil and anxieties of that noble-hearted man, standing up as a tower of defense between his helpless ones, and the crude, jostling crowd, and baring his own broad bosom to all life's pelting storms, content if he can but shelter them.
"My daughter." There is a meaning in those words whose depths she will never fathom until another sentence falls like ice upon her ear, and freezes the blood in her veins: "He is dead!"
Then, when she misses his kindly greeting, when he no longer fills her pleading hand; when she would turn back from the cold friendships of the world, sick at heart for the love she has wasted upon the ungrateful; then, when there is no fond, paternal bosom, to which she may fly in her day of adversity, she will realize — O! how bitterly! — that "an angel" has been with her "unawares."
"Oh that I now had a father!" bursts from her quivering lips, as she remembers all his goodness; and she nerves herself anew for the stern conflict of life.
"My brother!" The fraternal tie may be loosened by unkindness, or remembered lightly, as in different paths we go out into the world, each struggling for individual success. But there are times when that word calls up a gush of tenderness, as we look back to youth's halcyon hours, when we walked hand in hand with him, who held us by an earnest clasp, and whose kiss was unpolluted by flattery or selfishness.
We may have thought hardly of that brother, but if the stranger dares to whisper anything against his name, how the indignant blood tingles in our veins — stranger, beware!
He lies low in the churchyard. We cover his faults with the mantle of charity, and comparing his love of long-ago with the world's fictitious friendships — say his errors were of the head, rather than the heart; he was, indeed, as "an angel unawares."
The husband goes before the wife, smoothing the rough places and pushing aside the thorns from her path; he shields her from the stare of lust, and blunts the edge of every pain and grief by those soft, balmy utterances, known only in the vocabulary of affection; and she leans upon his strong arm, unaware of all his self-denial for her sake.
But when that strong arm is palsied in death, when the eyes which beamed on her so lovingly are closed forever, and the lips which never chided her are pale and mute — then she realizes his worth as she never could before, and gazes with tearful earnestness into the blue abyss, as if to arrest those "lessening wings" in their upward flight, and whisper in the ear of the departed the thankfulness, which until now had found no utterance.
The wife — there is no treachery there — no deceit. How her smile of welcome dissipates the cloud of care which has clung to her husband's brow all day! How softly she parts away the toil-dampened locks from his temples, and kisses away their last lingering throb of pain!
The heart, man knows, is all his own — is to him a priceless gem; but never until those orbs, which turn to his with love and reverence, are hidden away in the gloom of the narrow long-home, does he appreciate as he should the presence of her who was sent of heaven, "an angel unawares."
That friend — a creature of blended weaknesses and virtues — not all selfishness, not all unselfishness; but the pressure of his hand is earnest, his smile is not a lie. You have trusted him, and he has not betrayed you. You have gone to him in the hour of trial, and he has advised you for your best good. He has spoken your name with respect, and cheered you with words of hope, when your heart was faint almost unto death. In him you have a priceless treasure. Well may you bow your head and weep, if he has fallen before you in the battle of life; for there will be times in the future when you will yearn to lay your head upon his shoulder, and pour into his sympathetic ear your tale of wrongs and griefs; and then will come again the consciousness that he has passed away, and, God help you! you search in vain through life for his living counterpart.
There are "angels with us unawares" in all the relations of life, but, alas for our stupidity! We seldom realize their presence until they have taken their eternal flight.