I’m learning to accept compliments, getting better at being gracious and grateful, but I’m not quite there yet. I received this compliment a few nights ago at the Truth or Consequences Brewing Company. “I love to watch you dance. You’re so joyful. You’re like an angel.”
I immediately said “I’m no angel,” and came up as with as many ways as possible to deflect the idea. But later, I reflected on it. A former professional choreographer with twenty years of dance training, I now dance out of pure in-the-moment delight in music, not for money or for an audience. Why can’t that be like an angel? A rockabilly-and-blues-band brew-pub angel?
After I resisted the startling compliment, I started seeing the angels all around me. Friends, neighbors, yoga students, classmates in the yoga class I take in Albuquerque, the woman who forgot her cane hanging on the grocery cart in Natural Grocers, the families on the street in Halloween costumes … all angels. All bearers of light.
It’s a little bit like the exercise Jack Kornfield gives in The Wise Heart for seeing the inner nobility in people, but more mysterious. I can do it with almost everyone. Almost. I can’t get there with a few people. So I’m no angel. But, y’know? In my own way, I kind of am.
The Wounded Angel painting is by Hugo Simberg, 1903. It’s the most thought-provoking and moving angel image I found.
I’m a people-watcher. My fellow humans are endlessly fascinating and the fragments of their lives that I observe have the seeds of stories in them, maybe even new characters. They also give me an opportunity to practice what Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes in his book The Wise Heart as seeing the inner nobility in in others.
On a recent run in a park, I noticed a romantic young couple setting up a hammock, and they asked a man who was walking his dog to take their picture in front of it. The man had a pair of hot pink headphones parked on his neck. He was around six foot three, wearing a baggy old T-shirt over a broad chest and prominent belly and khaki shorts that revealed thick, powerful calf muscles. They thanked him and he walked on with his stubby-legged little white mutt, a comical creature that looked all the smaller and stubbier for being his dog. As I finished one lap, I encountered the dog sitting patiently while the man fiddled with his MP3 player, pink headphones now attached to his head. On my next lap, he and his dog were in the middle of the green space, and he faced away from the couple in the hammock, who had vanished deep into its blue embrace. The man was singing. I realized the headphones were providing him with his accompaniment, and he was … rehearsing? Creating? He had a huge soaring tenor voice, classically trained, sweet yet strong and passionate, filling the air with a song about lost love.
You never know what’s inside another person. The pink headphones were a hint that music mattered to him, but the sound of his voice, the feeling and beauty with which he sang, expressed far more than anything on the outside. The inner depth, the inner nobility.