I love Christmas music. I have dozens and dozens of seasonal CDs. And I listen to them throughout the month of December. But my top ten list of Christmas songs and carols wouldn't include the hits of Burl Ives or Brenda Lee, as much as I enjoy those. I'm not sure all it might include, but I am sure one of the carols I'd name would be "Angels We Have Heard on High." For though I've never been as fortunate as Mary or Joseph or the shepherds in the nativity stories, I have heard angels. Not on high, but rather on low. Angels like a cook named Teo. Let me explain.
It happened a several years ago when I was living in Connecticut. My wife Linda had been out of town for most of several weeks, tending to our then new granddaughter and her aging parents who ahve since passed on. I had more work than I could comfortably handle. I was constantly on the run, feeling a bit sorry for myself, and very tired. Even my tutoring work with Literacy Volunteers seemed unproductive. One of my English as a second language students had returned to Haiti and another had been ordered to stay at home by her doctor as she went through her last weeks of pregnancy. I was seriously thinking about giving it up. It seemed like just one more thing on my to-do list. I was so busy I didn't even have time to do much reading myself, so I was returning a half-finished overdue book to the library. It may be telling that its title was The Dark Night of the Soul.
I was running, as usual;, and so rather than go inside, I decided to use the outdoor book drop..Just as I put my book in the slot and started to walk away, I looked up and saw one of my former Literacy students walking across the parking lot.
Teo is from Columbia. He is very bright and very charming. And he was making real progress in his English lessons with me. Though he is professionally trained, his limited English meant that he had to work as a cook at a diner in the area. So, when his hours changed at work, he had to give up his lessons.
I'd never seen Teo in Westport where I lived, and was very surprised. He had a little girl with him, who turned out to be his daughter. And they were going to get some books.
"So how are you doing, Teo? We really miss you in class!"
He smiled, and then, in his halting English, Teo told me he was well, and that he had started taking English classes at the local community college, ones that fir into his new schedule. More advanced classes. Then he made a gesture as if smoothing the air with hand, and he smiled and said, "I can do them because of your class."
We shook hands and as I walked away, my step was lighters and so was my heart. And even though I was the English teacher, all I could say was "Thank you God." For you see, I had been sent an angel, a messenger, one whose first language is Spanish, one who reminded me that God understands my deepest needs, including the need to know that what I am doing matters. So I didn't quit teaching English, and for many more months, you could find me every Thursday afternoon, covered with white chalk dust, explaining nouns and verbs and tenses to folks who really wanted to learn the language. All because of an angel I met in a parking lot.