Home is Just a Heart

Andrew stood outside the house. It was an older family home, built in the fifties with all the "modern" amenities of its time. By the look of the recently painted eaves and clean windows, it was a well-cared for home. The yard was neat, not over-manicured with every leaf raked and every so-called weed trimmed; rather the grass and flowers were allowed to grow wherever they liked, and paths had been traced among them so visitors could enjoy the landscaping to its fullest.

Smiling, Andrew felt as if he would like to take a short turn through the yard, smell the flowers and listen to the birds. But he had an appointment inside and she couldn't wait. The angel went up to the front door, and walked in.

The radio was playing softly from the back room. It filled the house with a faint sense of melody, and again he felt as if this were a home full of love, and joy, and peace. The rugs were thick and colourful, and as he passed through the living room he saw dozens of photographs. Some he recognised, long since passed on to God's home. Others were family and friends still scattered on earth, and in each the faces were smiling, staring out at the camera with delight. It would be a wonderful place to sit, surrounded by these faces.

He continued on, through the hallway and past the kitchen which still smelled deliciously of lunch -- soup, and fresh bread. He could detect the basil and garlic, and it made his mouth water. The dishes had been left beside the sink, stacked neatly. There had only been one setting. Too bad he couldn't have arrived an hour sooner, Andrew thought. He would have enjoyed an invitation to spend lunch here, hearing stories of the photographs along the walls. But he had been delayed earlier in the day, and had had no time to enjoy visits with any of the people he had met today.

After this, he had only one more appointment. Perhaps he could stay a moment and enjoy this woman's company. He found her sitting in the back room, radio only a bit louder here. As he stepped into the room she lay her needlwork down on her lap.

"Andrew! Why, it has been so long!" She smiled up at him, obviously delighted to see him.

"Angela. It has been awhile." He returned her smile.

"Please, have a seat," she indicated a well-stuffed chair near hers, both of which faced the window overlooking the backyard. Andrew sat down and she continued, "I knew you would come today. When I woke up this morning, I just knew. Like Barry knew, that night you came to take him to Heaven."

"I'm glad to see you're in such good spirits, Angela." Andrew relaxed in the chair. The joy in her face was remarkable -- as if she had already beguin her journey, and Heaven already shone in her eyes.

"Why wouldn't I be?" She sounded surprised. "I've done everything I've wanted to do on earth. I've had such fun! I'm ready to find out what Heaven will be like."

Andrew laughed. He remembered Angela as a child when he'd escorted her grandfather to Heaven. At ten the girl had been inquisitive and courageous, always curious to know what was around the next corner and not afraid to go find out. Blessed with an intelligence to keep her out of trouble, she had lived her life always eager to see what would happen next. Even when Barry, her oldest son, had died two years ago she had not grieved as much as she had been excited -- teasing him about getting there before her and finding everything out. Andrew remembered how Barry how teased her back, saying he would be happy to be her guide when she finally joined him. Before he'd come down, Andrew had received a visit from Barry who'd made the offer again. Andrew thought of the delight Barry would take in seeing her reaction and tried to contain another grin. It wouldn't do to give away the surprise.

Angela folded up her needlework, placing it on the table with her threads and glasses. "I've taken care of everything -- even asked my neighbor to look in on my plants outside the back porch -- it's difficult for me to get down the steps, nowdays. She'll see me sitting here, and eventually she'll come in and find me gone." She sighed, as if her body was beginning to feel lighter. "Are we ready?"

Andrew stood up, and held out his hand. "Yes, we are."

She took his hand and let him help her up -- as soon as she was standing beside him, Andrew felt her gain her balance, standing more firmly as her spirit let go of its final attachments to the body. He waited while she breathed deeply, and took a final look around the room. "I feel marvelous, Andrew. Ten years younger already!"

He laughed. "Only ten?"

The eighty year old woman laughed. "I felt pretty good ten years ago!" She began to say more, then she caught sight of it. Her eyes grew wide, and the light, which had begun to shine softly before she died, radiated out of her like a beacon. Andrew said nothing, as always enraptured of the transformation of a soul entering Heaven. He considered it an honour to be able to see it so often, to be the one who helped souls take that first step into the new world. As Angela took that step, Andrew looked upwards and whispered, "Thank you." Then he escorted her home.


An hour later Andrew found himself standing outside another house. This one was newer, with a freshly mowed lawn and a paved walkway circling around to the back of the house. The curtains in the front window were drawn, and the single car in the driveway was old, rusting, and as he walked past it Andrew saw that it was desperately in need of cleaning out. He headed for the front door, not sure what he would find inside. The house felt drastically different from the one he'd just been in. Where that one had been warm and inviting, this one seemed cold and forbidding.

Andrew stepped inside cautiously, looking around at the darkened living room. Clutter was scattered everywhere, the clothes and papers and various odds and ends showed no sign of recent -- or even long past -- cleaning. The house smelled musty and stale, as if the windows and doors had not been left open in a very long time.

It was not the sort of house where happiness lived, he knew from long experience. He consoled himself that someone would be leaving all this behind, very shortly. Moving towards the hallway, he heard a muffled thumping. Recognising it as his assignment, he followed the faint sound. As he headed for the back of the house he noticed that here there were no photos, no prints on the walls, no splashes of colour anywhere. The furniture spoke of a moderate amount of money, so the lack of display could not be due to lack of funds. Someone simply did not care.

He found a closed door at the end of the hallway. On the other side came the sporadic thumping and no other noise. Andrew couldn't tell if there were any but his assignment in the room. It was not yet time for her to leave this world, but perhaps he could offer a few moment's solace. Discorporated, he entered the room. Stopped, suddenly, when he saw the girl who was about to die.

She was a young girl, only eight years old, lying on a large bed. A man and a woman on either side of her -- the woman was holding the child down. The man held one hand over the girl's mouth, and with the other he was strangling her.

Andrew froze. He had seen this before, too many times to ever understand it. The girl was kicking against the mattress, once in a while hitting the footboard. But the adults were too strong for her. Andrew could see the fear in her eyes, barely visible above the large hand covering her face. Andrew wanted to run over and grab her away, spare her a moment of pain, but knew he could not.

He had to wait until she died. He stood there, whispering the same question to his own Father that the child had asked so many times.

"Why?"

Andrew found he'd stepped closer, almost able to reach out and touch the woman's shoulder, had he been corporeal -- had he been given the right to interfere. Instead he stood silently by, tears running down his face. He heard a scream bite its way through the man's fingers; in response the girl's head was shoved roughly downwards, a vicious look of anger and resolve on the man's face as he saw what he had done. The scream was cut off, and the girl's eyes began to close. They darted once, to the woman's face, but Andrew could see they got no response.

The woman said nothing as the man's hand closed on the girl's neck. Her struggles grew weaker, and Andrew felt his heart breaking. A few moments later the girl's body fell limp. Squeezing his fists, Andrew forced himself to wait, remain still until he could save her. A moment went by, and another, agonising for the angel. Finally he saw her spirit freed. He rushed over and caught her as she fell, scared and uncertain as to what had just been done. Then Angel of Death gathered her close, and held her protectively.

"Shh, it's all right little one. It's OK now. I've got you... they won't hurt you anymore." Andrew whispered to her, feeling her fear flowing out of every particle of her soul. He rocked her gently, continued to whisper reassurances until she was able to hear.

She looked up at him, terror in her eyes. "What did I do?"

"You didn't do a thing, little one. It wasn't your fault. It was never your fault."

She said nothing, then looked over at her body still lying between the two who had killed her. When she returned her gaze Andrew could see she did not understand. He gently pressed her head against his shoulder, cradling her in his arms. Her body was tense, as if she did not know what to expect from him. Andrew continued to hold her, not yet taking her from the room until she could grasp what had been done. She would not be ready to make the journey until she knew that she was dead.

Suddenly she pressed against him, tiny arms going around his neck. They gripped fiercely, and Andrew responded by holding her closer. "That's right, baby, that's right. No one's going to hurt you again."

"Are you a cop?" A small voice asked, muffled against his chest.

"No." He leaned back, and looked down into her eyes. He smiled, and tried to let her see the love he felt inside. "I'm an angel."

She frowned. "You don't have wings."

"I don't need wings. I do God's work here on Earth. People would stare at me if I had wings." He smiled at her. "I'm here to take you home to Heaven." He kept his voice calm and his words as tender as he could.

"What's Heaven?"

Andrew felt his heart ache again for her, and then smiled again. Standing up, he shifted the girl so he could continue to hold her as he walked. He took them to the window, both of them ignoring the two adults. Andrew pointed out the window at the sky. "Do you see that bird flying?"

"Uh-huh."

"Can you see the light reflecting off its wings?"

"I guess."

He leaned his head down, kissed her on the top of her head. "That's Heaven."

"Oh."

For a while they just stood there, watching the bird circle the sky.