Dark Night of the Soul
"My mind was called across the years
of rages and of strife
and all the human misery
and all the waste of life.
We wondered where our God was
in the face of so much pain
and I looked up to the stars above
to find you once again."
~Loreena McKennitt

September 2002
Andrew watched the flashing lights fade away.  He breathed a sigh of relief.  The "Cowboy" was caught and he'd pay for what he did to Meg.  But Meg, whose name Andrew had to learn from the Father because she couldn't remember it, would forever be terrorized by the memory of red boots...
Gloria and Kristie moved past Andrew, the former giving him a quick smile before escorting the woman to another squad car.  For a moment a long forgotten feeling welled up in Andrew's heart.  Envy.  Gloria had stopped the attack.  Gloria had been able to say something.  To do something.  She'd saved Kristie.  But Meg...  Grief won out over envy. 
Andrew watched Kristie get into the squad car with Gloria beside her.  Nonetheless, her screams echoed in his mind and mixed with Meg's whimpers.  Andrew wasn't due any where for a few hours but he knew he had to go somewhere.  He had to get away from the town.  The angel looked up to the sky, closed his eyes, and disappeared.
A moment later, Andrew stood beneath the willow tree in his yard in Dyeland.  Everything was very still and peaceful, stars twinkled, and soft music drifted over from the Cafe.  The angel took a deep breath and tried to pray. 
Meg's pained question returned to him, making it impossible for Andrew to concentrate let alone pray. 
"Why?" the angel of death repeated quietly.
"Why what?"
Andrew spun around to where the voice had come from.  "JenniAnn?"
The young woman stepped through the branches.  "Yep.  I was pulling an all-nighter for a paper and saw you out the window.  That's a very nice shirt," she said with a blush, "but not exactly warm enough to be standing around outside in.  Here."  She unfolded a blanket she'd brought out and held it out to the angel of death.
Andrew smiled and reached for it.
JenniAnn gasped.  "You're shaking.  And I don't think it's just from the cold.  What's wrong?  Did you have a bad assignment?"
Andrew looked at the ground and fiddled with the blanket.  "Thank you for bringing this out.  My last assignment was a near miss, thankfully."
"You're welcome.  Here, lemme..."  JenniAnn helped wrap the blanket around Andrew's shoulders.  "I'm glad to hear that.  But... you're clearly upset.  Which leads me to believe your assignment before wasn't so happy.  Do you want to talk about it?"
"JenniAnn, it's very nice of you to come out here and to try to make me feel better but I don't want to tell you...  Terrible things happen and sometimes I struggle with the memories of them myself and I'm *not* exposing you to that."  Andrew shook his head. 
JenniAnn bowed her own head and nervously twisted her ring around her finger before looking up at Andrew.  "I go to classes every day and I hear about massacres  in South America and read painstakingly detailed essays about crucifixion and pass posters with statistics on domestic violence and rape.  I... I hear the stories but I can't do anything for the people that experience them.  They're either dead or unknown or too far away.  But you... you're here.  And you need someone to listen.  And I'm here.  Let me help you.  Please, Andrew."  She briefly took one of his hands in her own.  "Please."
Andrew closed his eyes and leaned against the trunk of the tree.  He'd already talked to Monica about it and even though they had been interrupted by concerns for Gloria and Kristie, it was enough.  He'd got what he needed to say out.  There was no reason to expose JenniAnn to the same terrible memories and the questions they had brought to the surface.  Angels were supposed to bring humans a message of "Fear not!" not frightening stories of human cruelty. 
"Okay, then we'll just sit," she said, interrupting his thoughts. 
Andrew watched as JenniAnn pulled the cloak she wore more tightly around herself and sat on the ground.  So she wasn't going away.  That much was obvious.  He sat down.
"Maybe you should take this back.  I don't want you to catch cold."  Andrew moved to hand her the blanket.
JenniAnn shook her head.  "No, keep it.  This is basically a blanket itself.  Or it used to be before Mary fixed it up."  She smiled as she ran the satin binding of her cloak between her fingers.  "My baby blanket had this on it and I'd rub it whenever I had a nightmare and was scared but didn't wanna wake my mom or dad up.  Sometimes I'd tell my nightmares to my stuffed animals.  It always made me feel better to get it out."  She shot Andrew a pointed look.
Despite his melancholy, Andrew laughed.  "You're very persistent and creative."
The woman shrugged and smiled.  "Just think of me as an oversized Care Bear or a Popple."
"A popple?"  Andrew raised an eye brow.
"Never mind.  Just... either talk to me or promise me you will with someone else."  The pleading in her eyes was unmistakable.  As was the worry. 
Andrew relaxed against the trunk of the tree.  "Okay.  I was told to go to this wooded area and when I got there I just saw a man getting into his pick-up truck.  He drove off and I didn't know if he was my assignment.  Maybe a car wreck.  But there was something about him...  A coldness.  After another moment I knew he wasn't my assignment.  I stood there after he drove off and then..."  Andrew sighed.  "I heard... I heard whimpering and I saw this woman."  He stopped and looked to JenniAnn. 
"Go on.  I'm alright," she encouraged.
Andrew took a deep breath.  "I went to her and, at first, she looked at me with so much fear.  Like she thought I was going to hurt her."
"Oh, Andrew..."  JenniAnn reached for his right hand which he was gazing at as if it was some foreign, dangerous object.  She squeezed it gently.
"I introduced myself.  That was when I started to glow.  She didn't seem so afraid then.  I asked her what her name was and..." Andrew drew back his hand, raked it through his hair, and stood up.  "He'd beat her so badly that she couldn't remember.  Not her name, her family, her friends.  Not her own life!  He stole that from her and he beat her and all I could do was show up too late and stand around glowing!"  The angel of death began to cry, his shoulders shaking.
JenniAnn brushed back her own tears and moved to her feet.  Tentatively, she placed a hand on Andrew's shoulder.  "Andrew, you didn't just stand there glowing.  You brought her the message of God's love and some peace in a terrifying time.  You were the first friendly voice and gentle touch she felt after... after it happened.  That counts for something, Andrew."
Andrew looked at his friend appreciatively and drew a deep breath to steady himself.  Weary, he sat back down.  JenniAnn reclaimed her place beside him.  "Thank you.  I know it does.  But I can't help wishing sometimes that I could be there earlier.  Maybe I could have stopped him."
JenniAnn frowned.  "And somewhere else there would be another just like him.  People do some very terrible things with free will.  You couldn't stop them all even if that was your job.  God knows that humans can be horribly cruel but He won't take back His gift of free will.  So He sends you and Adam and Henry and others.  What happened to... do you know her name now?"
"Meg," the angel answered softly.
"What happened to Meg was awful and... and I wish it hadn't happened.  But it did and maybe the only reason she might come back from it is because she'll remember gentleness and compassion.  Yours, Andrew.  And if she doesn't... then at least some of her last memories of the world into which she was born will have some beauty and peace to them."  JenniAnn stopped speaking and leaned heavily against the willow's trunk herself.  Looking out into the yard, she rested her head on Andrew's shoulder.  "I don't wish you were anything but what you are, Andrew.  Because sometimes when I hear all those stories in class or on the news, the only thing that keeps me from going insane is the thought that you or someone like you was with those people.  Praying for them, crying for them, but mostly being with them.  With us."
The subtle invocation of the young woman's own mortality and her tears and words affected Andrew deeply and he could think of nothing to say.  They sat silently for a few moments.  Finally, Andrew spoke.  "I don't know what else to say but thank you for listening and for saying all that you did.  Your words did help me, JenniAnn.  I just hope mine didn't harm you."
JenniAnn shook her head.  "It pains me that things like that happen.  And I hate it that they weigh so heavily on you when they do.  But neither of us can avoid them entirely."
"I suppose not.  You're sure you're okay?" 
"I will be.  Are you okay?"
"I will be," Andrew responded with the beginnings of a smile.
"Do you have to go?"
"Not until later.  I need to meet Monica, Gloria and Tess to finish the assignment.  Let me walk you back so you can finish your paper."  Andrew stood up.
"No, I don't feel like it.  Besides, it's actually not due until tomorrow.  I just wanted to get a head start but suddenly the Romantic elements in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein don't seem so vital.  What time is it?"
Andrew checked his pocket watch.  "4:53."
"The sun rises in about an hour and a half.  Will you watch it with me?  I think it'd do us both good." 
Andrew didn't miss the sparkle of tears that lingered in JenniAnn's eyes.  He knew he couldn't leave just yet.  "I'd love to watch the sunrise with you."
JenniAnn beamed at him as he sat back down.  She once again rested her head on his shoulder.  "I'm glad you talked to me about what happened.  I think I needed to listen as much as you needed to talk.  I don't feel quite so... helpless now."
"Neither do I," Andrew agreed.  "And I'm glad I talked to you.  Everything you said, it made a lot of sense and even more it reminded me why I was so happy when I got promoted to angel of death.  So thank you."
"You're welcome, Andrew.  If you ever need to talk again, I'm here.  So are the others."
"I know and I'm grateful for that," the angel smiled and glanced up to the stars then back to JenniAnn.  "So what do we do until the sun comes up?"
JenniAnn bit her lip as she thought.  "Maybe you could tell me about one of your really good assignments?"
"I'd like that."  The angel looked pensive for a minute then his face lit up and he began.  "Once, almost a hundred years ago, I was sent to a little village in Ireland..."
The two sat together, Andrew telling his story and JenniAnn hanging on every word, until streaks of pink, purple, blue, and orange lit the horizon.  After the long, dark night the two gratefully soaked in the colors, sounds, scents, and reminder of God's love that came with the dawning of a new day. 
After a final hug, JenniAnn watched Andrew walk out from beneath the branches of the willow.  He gave her one last smile before disappearing.  She smiled after him, hoping that the company of his friends would sustain him on a morning that would be filled with memories of what happened to Meg.  After whispering a prayer, she stooped to pick up the abandoned blanket, and returned to Willowveil.

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