Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

December 26, 2013

Another View - “Our Better Angels”

Charlotte Shivvers

Knoxville — Sometimes it’s hard to believe in those “better angels” we’re told we have inside us.

Right now I wonder, especially as Bob (my husband) reads the Long Walk to Freedom of Mandela’s struggle for equality that earned him 27 years in prison.  Or, I question, as I read about beautiful Hawaii, our 50th state, and the deceptive way that USA missionaries, sugar cane merchants, and Navy ambitions took away their language, their culture and their independence.  Or as the papers tell me about corporate owners of places like Walmart and McDonalds who make billions while their workers struggle below the poverty level.  Where are the “better angels”?

As I remember these horror stories, I’m also hearing and joining the songs of the season.  We’re singing of love and joy and peace!    How can this be?  Is it “our better angels” singing their longing for a better way – a way that lives out that message from the manger?

I scratch my head, searching.  Is there any goodness in us?  Slowly memory starts to work.  It was September, 2013.  Bob and I were driving across Indiana on Highway 80; it was hard to find a motel because Notre Dame football fans filled them.  Finally, we found one.  It was late and 10 miles to the nearest restaurant, an Applebee’s in a place we’d never heard of.  But we drove there and had a fine meal.  We especially enjoyed our very pregnant waitress, exchanging tidbits, like where we were going, where we were staying, and how soon her twins were due. 

When we got back to the motel, the clerk called out to Bob, “Hey, they’ve got your wallet at the restaurant.”

“What?”  How did that happen?  How does the clerk know?  What will we do?  We’re not up to that ten-mile trip again.  Besides, the restaurant is closed.

No worry, however.  The better angels are in charge:  the kind motel clerk calls the restaurant and finds that one of their workers will deliver the wallet to this very place – tonight! Morning came, and there was Bob’s wallet at the front desk; all the money and all the credit cards just where he’d left them.  Was it that waitress, the one expecting twins, did her angels do this?  We don’t know.

In contrast, something very good about Mandela’s story is how much we do know.  Right at the beginning, the Foreward, in fact, Bill Clinton writes that he asked Mandela once if when he finally got to leave that prison, “… didn’t you hate them all over again?”

Mandela replied, “Absolutely I did, … But as I got closer to the car that would take me away, I realized that when I went through that gate, if I still hated them, they would still have me, I wanted to be free.  And so I let it go.” 

“If I still hated them, they would still have me … And so I let it go.”  

“Joy to the world!” I’m chanting to myself.  “Hark the herald angels sing!”  We human beings still have at least the possibility for goodness in us!  It sounds like we’re free and able to express that goodness – if we can only let go of hate.  What a powerful message for this holiday season.  I wish us all well in our struggle to “let it go.”