From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Hidden Wings

The darkness of death is like the evening twilight; it makes all objects appear more lovely to the dying.

Jean Paul Richter

Daddy wasn’t just an ordinary man. He was my daddy, a special kind of person who could charm the whiskers off a cat with a back rub or cajole the birds right out of a tree with a handful of seed. In my mind, he could do anything, from delivering moonshine to resurrecting a doll from decay.

I always knew when Daddy had been reading the Bible because he would burst forth in song, belting out the lyrics with gusto as he melded two songs—“When They Ring Those Golden Bells for You and Me” and “Oh Lordy, I’ll Fly Away” together into one harmonious array. He sang those two songs until tears streamed down his cheeks. With a powerful shout of “Hallelujah!” he’d slap his knee and say, “Praise the Lord for hidden wings.”

One morning, while Daddy was at work, I found a crippled cardinal lying in our backyard near our old concrete duck pond. Its wing was broken, and one foot was withered and drawn close to its beautiful red breastplate. I ran to the house screaming for Mother to get a bandage to wrap the wing and cried pitifully as I looked at the glorious bird writhing in such painful distress. Mother took the bird and carefully wrapped the wing in an old dishtowel. Placing the bird gently inside a cigar box, she said, “We’ll just have to wait and see if the bird wants to mend its wing.” I was five years old and didn’t understand Mother’s profound wisdom. I wanted so desperately to see the bird fly again. I said, “Just wait till Daddy gets home; he can fix it!”

That evening, when Daddy came home from a long day’s work on the railroad, I met him as he came through our front gate. “Daddy, Daddy, you gotta fix ’im!” Daddy was grungy with caked-on, greasy soot from wrestling with massive steel wheels and rails and was exhausted from miles of walking. Somehow he managed to delay his rest to soothe my fears.

Daddy lifted the bird and said, “Honey, he’s already been fixed. His hidden wings have taken him high into the heavens. Jesus has a special place just for him. You just weren’t able to see the wings unfolding, but the little bird released a hidden spirit and soared high into the sky.” I stood there in silence as Daddy explained, “Everybody has hidden wings. You just can’t see them right now. The wings only unfurl when Jesus rings his golden bell.”

I stood there in complete confusion when Daddy reached over and touched me on the back. “This is the place where the wings are lying, right here, between the shoulders. It’s very close to the heart, and when it’s time to go see Jesus, the love you have in your heart awakens the spirit. The spirit is the wings. One of these days, when you are older, you will understand what I have told you.” Although I did not understand, I was content with his explanation.

As I grew older and watched my parents age gracefully, Daddy’s words resounded with a thunderous roar. It was not until my mother passed away that I fully understood the magnitude of hidden wings or the wisdom of two wonderful souls. When Mother died, a peaceful grace consumed her frail little body. The years faded from her face to reveal a beautiful glow, almost stating “perfection has arrived.” It was as though I could feel her spirit swirl around me, dancing with excitement. She was at peace and, strange as it might seem, so was I.

Several years later, Daddy went to a nursing home. Dementia and diabetes had taken hold of him, and he needed around-the-clock care, which I could not provide. I visited him every day, and we shared many stories of his childhood and one particular story about hidden wings. Early one Sunday morning, as I approached Daddy’s room, the nurse told me that he was not responding and warned me what to expect when I went inside. As I neared his bed, I heard the strangest thing. Down the hallway, inside a dining room, a quartet broke forth in gospel songs, transposing one with another. The harmony was divine and surely sent by God. The joyous sounds drifted closer and closer until it draped the two of us with solid words: “When they ring those golden bells for you and me, I’ll fly away, oh glory, I’ll fly away in the morning, when I die, hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away.”

As I looked at Daddy, a single tear dropped from his steel gray eyes. Then, as day turned into night, Daddy was gone. I knew immediately what Daddy had told me was true. His hidden wings had unfurled, and his spirit soared into the heavens. When I finally left his room that day, I slapped my knee and said, “Hallelujah, praise the Lord for hidden wings.”

Joyce L. Rapier

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