81: Angel on the Footbridge

81: Angel on the Footbridge

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Angel on the Footbridge

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

~Psalm 46:1

I was trapped in a secluded area of a large park. The two assailants were only a few feet behind me. I knew my fate: either rape or death, or both. How had I arrived at this particular dangerous situation? Simply by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I’d had extensive abdominal surgery a little more than a week before. And as anyone who’s had abdominal surgery can surely attest, you suffer intense gas pains. The best cure — long walks.

I loved walking the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park located in South Philadelphia near the Naval Base. Living close by, I would often walk from my home near 10th and Oregon to the park, completing a walk around the entire length before heading back home. So, off I went that day, hoping the gas pain would ease.

As I had entered the park, I had noticed the circus was in town. I’d forgotten all about it and hoped to get a glimpse of the elephants inside the circus tents on my way back. It was a nice day; spring weather was on the way. I headed down the trail that leads mothers with strollers, joggers and bicyclists through the beautiful park, which is part of the larger Fairmount Park System.

After walking for about thirty minutes, I came to the more secluded section of the park. No one was around; it was quite early in the day. Then a young, scruffy-looking man exited from the nearby bushes and walk past me. I got a good look at him and kept turning around to make sure he wasn’t following me. As I walked further past the tennis courts and toward the I-95 overpass, another man, this one heavier but just as scruffy, came out of the bushes to my right. I was in trouble.

Both men started following me. As I increased my speed, they did too. No one was around to hear me call for help. I had no cell phone at that time, and I could not run because I was still healing from my surgery. I prayed for my life.

I had come to a little stone footbridge when I noticed an old man walking his dog on the bridge. Still praying to God to protect me, I went straight to the man. Would he be able to help me or would the two men in close pursuit also hurt him? As I reached the elderly man, I opened my mouth to ask for help, but my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.

This was no man who stood before me. It was a ghost. Standing on the footbridge was my late father-in-law. He had passed away two years before. Yet, there he stood with one of the family dogs that had passed away a few years earlier.

“Dad,” I said, my heart thumping. But at first he did not reply. My assailants had stopped cold at the foot of the bridge, watching me and the ghost. Yes, they saw him too. “Stay here,” were the only words uttered from the apparition before me. I stayed put.

While the ghost studied the two men and they him, I realized the apparition protecting me was not my father-in-law. I was standing before an angel who had taken on my father-in-law’s appearance so I would not be frightened. I felt my fear leave as I watched, stunned, as the two assailants backed away slowly from the angel. They were afraid. The fear was evident in their eyes. They turned and quickly walked away from the bridge, the angel, and me.

I may have been in shock, because I did not move. I stood awaiting further instructions from my rescuer. His eyes were still on the men, who by now had disappeared over the hill. How do you thank an angel? I was about to touch his arm, get his attention, and thank him, but a voice in my head warned, “Don’t touch.” I dropped my arm. Just then a park maintenance truck came over the hill, headed our way.

“Follow that and go home,” the apparition commanded.

Still in shock, I asked no questions. When the truck passed, I was about to follow, but wanted to say thank you to the angel. He was gone. Just like that, as if I dreamt the whole thing. I wanted to cry. Not because my life had been spared, but because I never got to say goodbye or thank you. I never told anyone this story except for my sisters and my daughter, but I felt the time was right to share this outside my family.

It had been twenty years since I returned to the park. But this past March, I went back with two of my grandsons to participate in a Zombie Run for charity. I went to that little footbridge after the race. Even though I saw no angel that day, I know that God hears us when we call to him and he replies in ways that amaze.

~Marie Gilbert

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