Cumberland Times-News

Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything

March 17, 2012

What did he look like? He looked just like us

People I don’t even know call me now and then, just to chat for a few minutes, and sometimes we hang up as friends.

One new friend is the pastor of a church in Pennsylvania, and we seem to have a good bit in common. For one thing, we both believe in ghosts ... or at least, the phenomenon folks refer to as ghosts.

We don’t know what causes it, but we know it’s real.

“Sometimes,” he said, “it may be demonic.”

Absolutely, I replied. There have been times when I had to get out of a place because a voice inside me — maybe that of the Holy Spirit — was telling me to Scram right now!

He said he was officiating at the graveside during a funeral one Halloween — Oct. 31 — when he saw a man standing alone nearby.

“He was wearing what looked like a World War I uniform,” he said. “I looked away, and when I looked back, he was gone.”

The man had been standing beside a grave. When the service was over, the pastor went over to look at the headstone.

“It said he had been born on Oct. 31 and died on Oct. 31,” he said. (Different years, of course.)

The pastor and I also believe in angels.

He told me there had been a bad fire, and a little girl was missing. About the time all hope for her had been abandoned, she was found in the rubble, safe and sound, in the only place where she could have survived.

When asked how she knew where to hide, she replied, “The man with the wings told me.”

If that doesn’t give you chills, nothing can.

My family and I have long believed in angels. So far as I know, none of us has ever seen one with wings, but — as may have been the case with the little girl — they appear to us in the form in which we need to see them.

What in some ways seems like a long time ago, but in other ways doesn’t, my dad and I were in the hospitality room at the hospice of Memorial Hospital, waiting for other angels to come for my mother.

Other folks were there for similar reasons, including a pastor from a small church in the hills of West Virginia whose daughter hadn’t much longer to live.

We began telling angel stories.

The pastor said one of his parishioners was driving home in a station wagon with her children during a severe ice storm when she came to a  wooden bridge that crossed a stream.

She stopped her car at the edge of the bridge, not knowing what to do, but certain that if she tried to cross they would wind up in the creek a considerable distance below.

Suddenly, there was a man tapping at her driver’s side window. She rolled it down and he said, “Move over, and I’ll drive you across.”

She moved over, he got in and drove the car across, then got out and told her, “You’ll be all right, now.” With that, he vanished.

My father told the pastor about the time he was fishing by himself in the South Branch of the Potomac River. Dad loved few things more than to put on an old shirt, shorts and tennis shoes and wade through the shallows.

He was out in the riffles in the middle of the river when he stepped into a deep hole that wasn’t there before the last big storm and went straight down.

Dad had polio when he was 2 years old and couldn’t raise his right hand much above his right shoulder, and he was weighed down with bait cans and other fishing paraphernalia that he’d strapped around his waist.

He struggled enough to get his left hand out of the water, and that’s when another hand grabbed it, and the next thing he knew he was standing on the river bank 20 or 30 yards away.

I asked Dad if he saw who pulled him out, and he said he had. What did he look like?

“He looked just like you and me,” Dad said. “He asked me if I was all right, and I said I was. I turned for a second to look back at the river, and when I turned back around he was gone ... but there was no place for him to go.”

Angels aren’t always seen — which may be why Uncle Abe appeared to my grandmother at a time when he was almost halfway around the world. It was during World War II, and Grandmother Goldsworthy told me that she woke up one night to find him standing at the foot of her bed.

“He was in his Army uniform, holding his arms out to me,” she said. “I looked at him for a second, then got up to go to him, but he disappeared.”

“He was in his Army uniform, holding his arms out to me,” she said. “I looked at him for a moment, then got up to go to him, but he disappeared.”

My grandmother was a meticulous woman who surely knew some things most people don’t, and she took careful note of the date and hour of night she saw Abe. After the war ended and he came home, they compared notes.

It turned out that this happened at the exact moment Abe was standing on the deck of a troopship, watching a German torpedo heading straight for him.  

The torpedo went between his feet and passed under the ship, but its magnetic fuse failed to detonate it. The very same thing happened to my friend Clifton Brooks, who is West Virginia’s last surviving Tuskegee Airman and a true national treasure ... my hero.

Why didn’t those torpedoes explode? You tell me ... but I think I already know.

Most often, I believe, angels simply are human beings who don’t realize they are angels — like the staff of the hospice who somewhat timidly asked my father and me if they could say something, then told us what a beautiful woman our Ruth was — or the pastor and his family, and the others with whom we shared acts of mutual comforting.

After the pastor’s daughter died, Dad and I went to the funeral home to pay our respects. They returned the favor when the time came.

I find that I’ve lost track of the angels who’ve come into my life. Some are now my friends, while others paid a brief visit and then left, probably never to be seen again. I frequently see human angels at work on behalf of other people and can tell that none of the participants is aware of what’s happening. (And it may well be that some angels have four legs and a tail.)

Angels haven’t always just done good things for me or spared me from bad things. Occasionally, they have saved me from myself.

Have I ever been an angel? I don’t know. That’s not for me to decide ... but I hope so.

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Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything
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