Have you ever spoken with a fireman, or someone who places their life on the line for the protection of others? It might be tempting to assume they receive an adrenalin thrill or ego boost when they're out on the job, but if you dig a bit deeper, I suspect you'd find a more noble motivation is really in their hearts.
Several months ago, I had a conversation with a volunteer fireman. Somehow in the midst of our random gab we fell into the topic of religion. He happened to mention he was "religious", without providing me a more specific definition. That was all right; I didn't feel compelled to probe.
I told him that church and religion have always swirled all through my life, and yet sometimes I still struggled to find God, to make him real.
He simply replied, "Get in a fire someday, you'll figure it out."
I wanted to hear more. "How so?" I asked.
"It's God in you," he replied. "Angels help you find your way out when you're in the fire."
I grew silent, thinking about his words. "How do you know it's angels and not just your wits and skills leading you out?" I finally asked.
He hedged. "You wouldn't believe me. I swear I have seen angels."
I'd like to believe there are angels among us. I want to believe that. I've seen goodness in people, certainly, but, honestly, never an angel. "What do they look like?" I wanted to know.
"All good things," he responded. "No face, you just feel the goodness in them. The love. It's amazing."
My doubt nagged at me, and I searched to find a logical explanation, but, really, who was I to question his experience? Perhaps when he was in the fear and inferno of a burning building, when the heat feels like hell itself, and smoke obscures up from down and right from left, he truly is guided by angels. I have no reason to doubt his experience. Maybe he sees them because he has to look for them. He needs them.
Maybe I don't see angels because I don't look for them. I don't think I need to see an angel. I think I already know right from left and up from down. Or maybe it's just that my building hasn't burned hot enough.
As we drifted off to other subjects, I kept thinking about his angels. Safe skepticism still nagged in my brain, but I didn't voice my questions. I hoped he'd continued to see his angels and that they'd keep on guiding and protecting him each time he was out being a hero fighting fires or rescuing people.
And I hoped, someday, I would see one too. But his words carried a bit of a warning, or perhaps a challenge about finding that angel: Get in a fire someday; you'll figure it out.