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Reform Magazine | September 26, 2020

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Editorial: No angel

‘What are angels?’ is this month’s ‘A good question’, inspired by the Christmas story. I don’t have an answer – I bring incorrigible scepticism to the subject, I’m afraid – but I do have my own story.

When I was a teenager, I was arrested for shoplifting. It was a traumatic experience for me and my family, and I was extremely grateful that the police gave me the benefit of the doubt and eventually sent me on my way with a caution rather than a criminal record. They trusted that the shock would cure me of a bad habit and put me back on the straight and narrow, which it certainly did.

Then, a year later, I was on a bus to Reigate when I found my thoughts drifting back to theft. I was appalled at myself, but could not shift those thoughts, or not for long. They came back that evening, and the next day. I imagine you too have had the experience of making a change in your behaviour, kicking out an unhealthy part of your life, only to find, in time, that the old Adam still has a key to the door. I felt powerless over myself. I could resist today and resist again tomorrow, but this craving was clearly not going anywhere and it would win in the end.

I knew that when that happened there would be no more cautions. Eventually, I would get caught and convicted and disgraced. This was a major fork in the road, but I seemed to be watching myself take the wrong turning as if I was a bystander. I was revealed to myself, and it was not a pretty sight.

After a week of resistance, I decided to get it over and done with. I walked into a newsagent and pocketed a cheap orange plastic propelling pencil with a black rubber on the end, a token of surrender. I stepped out of the shop.

Except that on the pavement, barring my way, was a large fellow in pale grey jogging bottoms and a baggy t-shirt. He had a jowly, stubbly face. He didn’t say: ‘Fear not,’ he said: ‘Are you going to put that back?’ I said: ‘Yes.’ I did.

I left the shop again and found to my astonishment that I was now on the right road after all. This time, I stayed there.

I’m sure some people will say there is a natural, non-angelic – and in this case very obvious – explanation for everything, while others will say: ‘Why can’t you just believe?’ All I can say is I don’t believe in angels, but I have without a shadow of doubt met one. Merry Christmas.

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This article was published in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of  Reform

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