I’ve Heard Angels Sing
“Rick? Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing…” I replied. My church choir had been practicing a piece called “Agnus Dei,” and I was struck by how similar the piece sounded to music I had heard ages ago, transported to a childhood memory…
…In which wolves with glowing eyes circling me in the dark, their teeth sharp, having patiently waited for me. There was no escape, and my impending death was unavoidable. I was going to die.
I was waking from a dream.
My eyes snapped open, and I was back in my bedroom again, my breathing harsh against the night’s stillness. Another nightmare. Every evening, the same night terrors would lie in wait… waiting for me to fall asleep.
Nightmares can’t kill you. They can force you to face aspects of your life that aren’t quite right, subtle secrets that elude you during your waking hours.
In their own way, they can bring a blessing. But you don’t understand these things at three years of age.
At three years of age, I thought the terrible dreams were my fault, somehow. There must be something I was doing wrong. Was it what I ate at dinnertime? Failing to properly say my prayers before climbing into bed?
Now I lay me down to sleep.
My parents wondered if the dark purple shade of my bedroom wall was contributing to the problem, so they gamely painted my room a bright cheerful yellow instead, but the nightmares continued.
I became convinced that falling asleep while facing the wall next to my bed was causing the nightmares. I would resolutely face away from the wall as I drifted off to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Each night I would have the same nightmare, and I would wake up facing the wall. I had caused it. I had turned in my sleep and caused it to happen.
If I should die before I wake.
I would try to keep awake as long as possible. I would desperately fight sleep, only to lose each night. The dreams were waiting, and it was only a matter of time. And it was my fault.
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I would listen to my parents in the next room as I struggled to stay awake. Their laughter carried easily through the walls, although sometimes there was arguing, too.
On happier nights, I could hear the clink of glasses and joyous laughter that grew louder as the evening wore on. Before they went to bed, my mother would quietly steal into my room.
She would steady herself against the wall with one hand as she bent down to kiss me on the cheek. “Good night,” she would whisper.
The next day, I would get up as early as I could, before my parents arose, to sit on the porch in my pajamas, shivering, until the neighbor lady next door would come over and take my hand to lead me to her house for breakfast.
She led me by the hand because she knew I was afraid. My Mom told me there were rats near the garbage cans between our two houses. They frightened her.
I had never seen them myself, but she said they were big. I imagined them crouching in the shadows, visible as glowing eyes in the dark. Glowing eyes.
My eyes snapped open, and I was facing the wall again, heart pounding hard in my chest. Another dream. It had happened again.
And then one night something quite different happened.
As I fought against sleep, my eyelids closing and then opening as I forced myself awake, I heard—singing.
One male voice slowly climbed a scale, and then stepped back down, followed by a female voice that responded with a slow, solemn descant. Their voices combined and then broke apart into separate melodic lines.
There was a slight echo to their song, as if it was being sung from far away.
I got out of bed and slowly approached the corner of the room from which the sound seemed to be emanating. But as I edged nearer, the sound faded away.
The closer I got to that corner, the more the music faded. When I edged closer to my bed, the sound grew louder, yet still seemingly coming from that area.
It frightened me at first. I didn’t understand it. I called for my mother and asked her, “What is that music?”
She couldn’t hear it, even though she walked all around my room, listening carefully. I pointed to the corner. “It’s coming from there.”
“There’s no music, baby,” she finally told me, reassuringly. “Go back to bed.”
So I did. After she left, I climbed back into bed and pulled the blankets up to my chin, lying on my side gazing into the darkness of that corner of the room. And I began to relax. The voices sounded happy, somehow.
I didn’t understand what was happening, but my fear was giving way to a placid, contented wonderment.
There were dozens of voices now, sometimes separate, sometimes singing in unison. They were singing in a language I couldn’t understand, in an interchange of voices that steadily grew in complexity, building on what had been sung before.
Soon it seemed like there were hundreds of voices, and the music grew louder. My eyelids fluttered as I began to drift into sleep.
It was okay now. I wasn’t afraid any more, because I knew what was happening.
They were angels. And they were singing me to sleep.
I don’t know when the nightmares stopped. I don’t know if it all ended that night, or some time after that. But they did stop. I do know I never heard the mysterious music after that one night.
When my parents agreed to separate, my Mom was sad and quiet for a while. But then our lives slowly began to change for the better. A new town, new school, and new friends.
My Mom found a good man, married him, and decided to quit drinking. There were good times as well as bad times, but I knew we’d be all right. And I still know that.
Because I’ve heard angels sing.