Once, to save this guy George Bailey’s life and help this bumbling angel Clarence get his Wings, God allowed George got to see what life would be like if he’d never existed.
At the time, I was also an Angel/Second Class (I prefer “Aspiring Angel”) and was unaware we could just do that. Like, poof! “Here’s an entire, immersive Alternate Reality to help save your soul!” OK. Might’ve been nice to know that particular Guardian Angel maneuver was available during my decades wallowing in “Second Classville,” getting mocked daily by a bunch of First Class Angel dickheads, but OK. I guess this Clarence gets to do whatever he wants. Cool.
In that Alternate Reality, George and Clarence go to Nick’s Bar where the angry bartender (literally everyone is super pissed in this Non-George-World) overhears Angel Clarence remark of his cash register’s ringing bell: “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings!” At which point Nick says, “That does it, out you two pixies go, through the door or out the window!” (Folks also seem inexplicably extra homophobic in Non-George-World).
Nick then derisively makes the bell ring on his cash register, calling out: “Get me, I’m givin’ out wings!” Funny, right?
Well, not to me. Why?
Because I’m the angel who got his Wings when Nick rang that bell.
After more than a century of trying, I was finally an Angel/First Class…ironically.
Yes, my Wings were gained via sarcasm. So technically, I have two glowing, glorious Wings growing out of my back now. But they might as well be two glowing, glorious Asterisks.
Walking around Heaven after that wasn’t exactly a “High-Five Canyon” of psyched team-mates. The other Angels/First Class were all, “Hey congrats, Angel Doug!” But they put those little finger air-quotes around “Angel” and patted my wings condescendingly, like I was their pet. Jokes started going around: “How did Angel Doug get his wings? He picked ‘em up in a bar!” Also, I found the Wings physically awkward. I kept getting lodged in doorways and men’s room stalls, and my attempts to fly all looked like epic skateboard fails.
I couldn’t take it. Gaining glory in this totally unearned way made me feel like some hillbilly Powerball winner in Kentucky, or worse, a member of The Royal Family. Finally, I went to God’s Office and said, “Hey, I don’t mean to seem ungrateful, but…I can’t get my Wings like this. Can I just…return them until I really earn it?”
God smiled patiently. She’s a cool lady. (Yup, God’s a woman; that band Dishwalla was right.) And She goes: “Well, I do work in mysterious ways, Angel Doug…”
Wow, I thought, that even sounds sarcastic when She says it…
“With all due respect, Ma’am, this happened in an Alternate Reality. It shouldn’t count.”
And God goes, “Well, that so-called‘ Alternate Reality’ had a real, profound impact on George Bailey — why not for you, too, Angel Doug?”
“OK, please stop calling me that. Look, I was a ‘Maybe’ at best to get into Heaven. I was an asshole on Earth. My whole family were assholes, they owned a plantation, fought on the wrong side of The Civil War. They suck. I suck only slightly less. I only got into Heaven because I died saving that old lady from that runaway horse. And she was gonna die soon anyway.”
“Beatrice was the local librarian, everybody loved her! Also, I don’t hold people accountable for their families being assholes, or else this place would be a ghost town.”
“Please just un-do these Wings, let me earn them — I was getting so close on my own!”
“Not that close…”
“That was a joke!” Her regal brow furrowed. “OK, do you really want to see what life would’ve been like if you hadn’t gotten your Wings in this manner? Well, I’ll show you…”
Then, with a wave of Her Mighty Hand, I was back on Earth. Only it was like no Earth I’d ever seen. Fire. Brimstone. Oceans boiling like lava, all Living Things screaming, turning to ash. I tried to scream but I, too, was turning to ash, as all Hope, all Life, vanished forever…
And then, Poof! It was over. I was back in Heaven. Standing next to God.
“Now do you see why you had to get your Wings that night —in exactly that way?”
“I do,” I said, shaken to my core. “Thank you.” I turned to leave.
But when I got to Her office door, I stopped. “Hey, did you make that whole vision up just so I’d stop bothering you and go away?”
“It’s just like, a ton of paperwork to undo Wings once they’re given,” God sighed.
“Can you just be cool and go with it, for Me? Please…Angel Doug?”
You can’t argue with God. So I sulked down to the local bar, where I noticed Angel Clarence, sitting alone. (Everyone up here still treats him kind of asterisk-y, too). We started chatting. Turns out, he’s a pretty cool guy. He was sincerely happy for me. To celebrate, he bought us two mulled wines, heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves.
He raised a glass. I hesitated. But sometimes in life – and the afterlife, I guess – ya gotta take the win, even if it’s not quite the win you wanted…
So I raised my glass. And Clarence clinked it.
“To Angel Doug!” he said.
And, for the first time, I smiled at my new name.
(I even flew home that night.)