From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Angel Unaware

In my unending grief over Robin, something Roy had said kept running through my mind: “She looks like a small-size sleeping angel.” I recalled a verse from the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for the re by some have entertained angels unaware.” You see, our baby girl, Robin Elizabeth Rogers, was born with Down’s syndrome. Like sunlight breaking through clouds after a storm of darkness, it all became clear to me. I knew what Robin’s life meant and I saw what I had to do. She had come to us from God—an angel—with all her handicaps and frailties to make us aware that his strength is found in weakness. In the two years she had been among us, we had grown close as a family and we had learned how deeply we needed to depend on God. My job was to help deliver that message that had been given us by an angel.

After Robin’s death, I grabbed a pen and began to write. I wrote until my hand cramped and could write no more. I looked at the pile of paper on my desk. It was my handwriting, but somehow the words didn’t feel like mine. I picked up the pen again and tried to write more, but nothing happened. After that initial burst of inspiration, a curtain seemed to fall across my mind and, try as I might, I could not force myself to conjure up the words.

I was obsessed with getting Robin’s message onto paper, but didn’t know how to do it. One evening during a radio broadcast when I had time away from the microphone, I closed my eyes and sought guidance. In that moment, I knew what the problem was. I was in the way! I was trying so hard to put her message into my words that I was blocking hers. It was so simple! All I had to do was stand aside and let Robin speak for herself. I was not the messenger; I was merely the instrument. From that moment on, the words—her words—flowed onto paper. It turned out to be a short book, but the message was a simple one that didn’t need windy elaboration. The story was Robin’s—and God’s—not mine, and it was for parents and children who needed to understand, so I decided to donate all the royalties to the National Association for Retarded Children. In an introduction to the book that I wrote (in my words), I told readers, “This is what I, her mother, believe she told our Heavenly Father shortly after 8:00 P.M. on August 24, 1952.” Her story began:

Oh, Father, it’s good to be home again. I thought some times that You had forgotten me, Down There. Two years Up Here doesn’t seem like much, but on earth it can be a long, long time— and it was long, and often hard, for all of us. When You lifted me up from the earth, just a few minutes ago, it was Sunday, and my Mommy and Daddy were crying, and everything seemed so dark and sad and confused. And all of the sudden it was bright and clear and happy, and I was in Your arms. Was it the same for them Down There, Father? You can put me down, now; I’m perfectly all right, now that I’m rid of that lump of hindering clay. . . .

Robin’s story concluded with these words:

They’re a lot stronger, since they got Our message. There ’s a new glory inside them and on everything all around them, and they’ve made up their minds to give it to everybody they meet. The sun’s a lot brighter in Encino, since we stopped off there for a while. And now, Father, please . . . could I just go out and try my wings?

I called the manuscript Angel Unaware. I soon learned that the publishing business could be as tough as show business. The first publisher who read it said they already had a book about a handicapped child, and didn’t want two. Besides, they informed me, the reading public does not want to cry. More rejections followed. My faith began to slip. Why had I been guided to write the book if no one cared to read it?

We were in New York. I went to Central Park and sat alone on a bench trying to figure out what to do. I wanted a sign from God, so I bowed my head to pray. “Please give me a word,” I begged him. “Is it your will that I seek a publisher for Robin’s book?” I looked up from my prayer and saw a little girl standing in the grass looking at me. She was about six years old. She had slanted eyes, tiny ears, little square hands and a thick tongue that caused her to drool. She was a Down’s syndrome child, tethered to a middle-aged woman whose face was furrowed deeply with the scars of mental anguish. There were hundreds of office workers strolling in the park at that moment, but I saw only the mother and child. The little one tried to look at me, tried hard to focus her weak eyes just as Robin had done so many times, then walked on. Oh, thank you, Lord ! I thought. That girl in the park was the word I had needed. Now I knew I could persevere until I found a publisher for Robin’s book. I had to let other mothers of Down’s syndrome children know they were not alone. I had to let them know how Robin had blessed our lives.

That afternoon I got a call from Dr. Frank Mead of the Fleming H. Revell Company. He said he wanted to publish Angel Unaware. The book was released Easter week, 1953, and it became a bestseller. But I never enjoyed its success as much as I did that autumn at the rodeo in Madison Square Garden.

When Roy and I rode out into the arena, the stands were filled with children, as they always were for our shows. But this year, after the publication of Angel Unaware, the audience was different. Among the cheering youngsters were hundreds of retarded boys and girls— Down’s syndrome kids—all kinds of kids with disabilities and handicaps—who had been brought to the show by their mothers and fathers. We had never seen them before; in those days parents seldom brought children like that out in public; they kept them in back rooms and closets, as though they weren’t human beings. But Robin’s book helped change that. Mothers and fathers had come to the rodeo because they wanted us to see their children, and they wanted their children to see us. They told the little ones that Roy and I were their friends. As we circled around, parents proudly held their fragile children in the air so they could wave to us and reach out with their little hands when we passed. The children smiled and laughed when we came close in our glittering cowboy clothes and our prancing horses. Down’s syndrome children all share certain features, so I saw Robin’s face shining in every one of them. She filled the arena and her love filled my heart. I was blessed.

Dale Evans

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