The Third Angel

I can’t remember the name of my own third angel.

Soon after I married Adventure Guy, I found myself living in small-town Oklahoma.  I had not planned this.  While I busily prepared for our wedding and looked forward to our honeymoon, I also diligently completed applications for teaching positions in Houston, Texas, where Adventure Guy would be transferred upon the completion of his year-long training program.  The program ended a week before our wedding, giving Adventure Guy his first official vacation time and providing plenty of time once we’d moved for me to prepare for beginning work in August.

I couldn’t wait to walk into my own classroom in the fall.  My student-teaching experience had just whetted my appetite for my chosen career.  I loved working with high school students. Better yet, they seemed to love working with me. 

When the phone rang two weeks before the wedding, it wasn’t a school principal calling with a job offer.  Instead, Adventure Guy said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m not being transferred.  They’ve just told us our training group has to stay here to do our first engineering projects.” It may have been the only true moment when I wanted to bang the phone against the table and say, “I’m sorry.  I. can’t. hear. you.”

But the news didn’t go away.  Instead of moving to the big city, I arrived in Ponca City, Oklahoma, home to Conoco and not much else.  Instead of literally hundreds of high schools with potential need for an inexperienced English or history teacher, there was one high school and two middle schools.  None of which would hire me, considering it was July, and I was not in possession of an Oklahoma teaching license. 

Each year when I planned my high school courses, my father would ask, “When are you going to take typing?”  I took this question as an affront to my academic abilities.  After all, why would I need to type?  I was never going to be a secretary.  Let’s just say it’s a good thing I listened to him.  Well, that and the fact that academic ability or not, I’m an excellent typist.

Instead of walking into a classroom of my very own, for my first job after college I walked into a cubicle at a local attorney’s office.  I first temped during one of the secretary’s maternity leaves and then moved up in the world to a legal assistant position the firm kindly created for me once the maternity leave job ended.

I met some great people and kept myself busy.  I especially needed the busy part when Adventure Guy’s engineering project turned out to be out-of-town–a result that left me not only living in a small town where I couldn’t teach but also living there alone Monday through Friday.

One day while perusing the local paper during my lunch break, I spotted an ad looking for literacy volunteers.  Remember the keeping busy part?  I quickly phoned the number listed and signed myself up for training.  After a couple of sessions, I found myself not only trained but with my very first tutoring subject–a woman who’d found herself even more displaced than I had.  Her husband also worked for the company, having come all the way from Asia to do so.  Like me, she found herself living somewhere she’d never expected.  Unlike me, she didn’t speak English.

In the book, The Third Angel, one of the characters, Frieda, describes the concept.

You think you’re doing him a kindness.  You think you’re the one taking care of him, while all the while, he’s the one who’s saving your life.

In many ways, the time I devoted to volunteering as a literacy tutor did me far more good than it did my students.  After a day of transcribing letters or typing pleadings, I’d grab a quick dinner and then become the person I wanted to be:  a teacher.  I loved planning the lessons and figuring out ways to get the point across. When I learned that my first student requested me because she’d been impressed with the way I worked with her when she volunteered as a student Guinea pig during training, it reassured me that this time in my life represented only a bit of a detour in the route toward my own classroom.  Working with her took me away from my lonely apartment, away from my worries about not living up to my potential, away from the fact that I lived a long way away from home and knew almost no one.  Better yet, it made me a real teacher.

And it was that real teacher who walked into her very first classroom the next August.  We’d been transferred into Houston, just nine months later than expected.  And, while as hard as I’ve tried I can’t remember her name, I’ll always be grateful to my third angel for giving me the confidence to keep pushing toward my goal and for seeing me as the person I wanted to be.

Who is your third angel?

Third Angel



Filed under Life in General, Marriage, What I'm Reading, Work

4 responses to “The Third Angel

  1. I love this post. I’m sure I’ve had many, many third angels. But one sticks out in my mind, because I became aware of the shift in who was angel to whom while it was happening.

    I was in college and was preparing to get on a plane to go…somewhere. I don’t remember where. But I was flying alone. And I do remember that the last flight I’d taken (and I was a very seasoned flyer, not usually afraid) had been awful. There’d been mechanical trouble and we’d overheard the crew talking about whether or not we should be in crash positions.

    At the gate, I found myself seated next to a blind woman. When they began boarding, her cane dropped and rolled and I helped her to get it and asked if she needed any help getting onto the plane. She thanked me and I helped her with her bags and walked her up the ramp. It turned out that she was sitting next to me. We chatted a little and then I picked up my book.

    About halfway through the flight, we hit a patch of terrible turbulence. She must have felt me tense up. She asked if I was okay and I explained about the last flight I was on and how I was nervous about this one. She told me how she used to be terrified of flying when she could see, but now she wasn’t anymore. “I have to trust people for everything every day. The pilot knows his job better than most people. I can’t do anything to help, so why should I worry? It is out of my hands. I just have to trust him.”

    It seemed so incredibly logical, that it actually calmed me down. I have no idea who this woman was, but I thank her every time I set foot on a plane. And I’d thought I was the one helping her.

  2. Squib

    This might not qualify as a Third Angel, but when people ask about angels this is what comes to my mind.

    My father was drafted in 1969. My father was, is and always will be a really bad shot, but the Army passed him after his third rifle test figuring nobody could be that bad and he was just faking it so he wouldn’t need to go to Veitnam. So they sent him. They had him as infantry, even though he has his BA in journalism.

    He gets sent to Vietnam and the first thing he does is go find the person he needs to see about getting his pay sent to my mom who is pregnant with me and living with her parents. Turns out the guy he needs to see is from the same tiny Maine town my mom is from. (It is tiny now it was even smaller back then. ) My father and this guy got talking. This guy went to school with one of my aunts. My father talked to him about meeting my mom in college, so ended up talking about his degree in journalism. They went their own ways after talking and dealing with the pay thing.

    That night my dad went to sleep still infantry. In the morning when he work up he was now going to write articles for the Army. He was never going to have to go on patrol or anything like that. The best my dad figures is this guy talked to someone and pointed out that he had a degree in journalism and there were better ways to use him.

    My dad can’t remember the guy’s name. I am sure with out this guys action my dad wouldn’t have made it home in one piece. So this guy was an angel and he never knew it. I don’t know if he was a third angel, but he was an angel none the less.

  3. I picked this book up at the library yesterday when I couldn’t find the book I’d hoped to get. When I first started it, I thought it was going to be just another chick litty novel. But the more I read, the more I wanted to read. While I thought the character development could have been better, I love the way this story unfolded. It was masterful. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Pingback: I Blame My iPad | Somewhere In The Suburbs

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