“Do you think angels talk to babies?”
Our daughter, Esther, twirls around us in her flannel Christmas nightgown, the hem now inches above the tops of her feet, a measuring stick of sorts, showing how much she’s grown since December. We sit on the floor next to her as she climbs over our legs to get to the mirror. She sings a song to herself as she twirls, her way of winding down for the night. My husband’s question to me was prompted by something I had read on Instagram, about a baby boy who had pointed to the corner of the ceiling above him one day while he was nursing. “Hot-hot-hot,” he had exclaimed to his mother, who concluded that he must have been seeing something supernatural right there in the nursery.
On New Year’s Eve, we say a half-hearted prayer for our dinner before silently picking up our forks. It was a quick mumble, really. We were soul-weary, exhausted from the fact that another year had passed without any movement in my husband’s immigration case, exhausted over all the horrors in the world, another year of uncertainty ahead. Rote words, spoken a thousand times over slid out of our mouths and onto our plates.
But Esther stopped us twice during that meal, holding out her hands to us, saying “Pray,” so definitively, like a command. She knew our first prayer wasn’t sincere, standing on the precipice of a new year. Her outstretched arms and pointed look told us to pause, to exhale, and to speak out our hopes for the coming twelve months, even if it hurt, even if hope felt just out of reach.
The next day, New Year’s Day, we pulled into an empty town square after running errands all morning so Esther could run around a little. The streets were quiet, everyone sleeping off the prior night’s festivities. Here in the square, hundreds of pigeons were swooping from the tops of the corrugated roofs down to the cobblestone lot where we stood.
We watched as a man came out from one of the shops with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a large scoop in his hand. He scattered corn and seeds onto the ground—breakfast for the birds. Once he was safely back inside his shop, the pigeons flew down, as if their leader gave a silent signal. Only the beating of their wings made any sound. We stood there quietly, mesmerized by their swirling, synchronized patterns, like a sheet of silk, so close their wings almost grazing the tops of our heads.
Peace was the only word that came to mind.
Do angels talk to babies? I’m not sure, but today she’s pulling me up from the couch where I’ve been sitting, swiping photo after photo of tanks crossing borders, a bombed-out apartment building, grandsons leading grandmothers away from homes, believers kneeling together in prayer, their own uncertainty palpable through the screen. I can’t stop seeing my own baby in every refugee family, can’t stop clicking through videos of fathers saying goodbye to their toddlers and makeshift NICU wards in bomb shelters—everything unfolding right behind my screen, everything happening not more than a 2-hour plane ride north. War in real-time.
Esther pulls and pulls at my arm until I surrender to her. She hands me a burp cloth my mom had made when she was born, pastel fleece with sheep jumping across. Esther knows I know the drill; no instructions are needed. The music is loud in the living room, booming from my husband’s iPhone, and the three of us sing and twirl the fabric in the air.
Does she know what’s happening in the world? Dancing, she seems to tell us, is a respite from the heaviness.
“And if angels do talk to babies,” my husband continued that night on the floor, “maybe we can pass on a message from her to them.”
And then later today I watch her as we walk down our road to the corner grocery store.
“Abr!” she points to the dark, full clouds rolling in from the west, using the Farsi word for cloud. “Abi!” She points to the east, the Farsi word for blue, the one color she so confidently knows. The sky is split in half, a crack down the middle as a storm encroaches on our town. The wind picks up into mighty 20 mph gusts as we walk, blowing our hair across our faces in every direction. We bow our bodies forward against the wind.
But then Esther stops mid-track just before rounding the corner and rips off her hat (a miracle it’s stayed on this far). She then rips out the clip in her hair and for a second I think she’s about to rip off her jacket, too. What will the neighborhood aunties think? That poor foreign lady, letting her toddler run around near-naked in February? But instead, she surprises me and raises her hands above her head, palms facing the heavens. She closes her eyes as the wind swirls around her, delight spreading across her face. In this dry, arid region of the world, we rarely experience weather like this.
She stands like that for a few moments, her smile unfading, palms spread wide, like she’s touching something. And I imagine her as a worshipper, standing in the rows of a church, holy music flowing through her, fervent in spirit.
And yet I don’t have to imagine it. That’s what is happening right here in front of me—something holy.
Do angels talk to babies? I can’t answer that. But I do know that we are all more intricately connected than we realize, and life is so much more delicate than we can comprehend as if this decade hasn’t taught us that yet.
We change diapers and read the headlines. We send a text asking Can you get milk on the way home? and then Are we safe here? What will happen next? We cook dinner and say tired prayers and cuddle toddlers to sleep, hair sweaty and matted against our chests. We breathe in and out, grasping at the hope that seems to unspool a little more each day.
But all these moments are connected in a jumbled-up, messy sort of way. I’m sure they are. That spool of hope? It’s a holy thread woven through all the mundane and all the chaos, through all of us.
And perhaps that’s how—not angels—but God speaks to us: through babies who seem to be more perceptive than we give them credit for, in our neighbor who stops us outside her door to hand us a bag of her green apples, the Afghan refugee who gives us a secret discount on garlic and potatoes, the murmuration of birds and the man who feeds them, in the awkward way we try to lead our children through the events of this world, in reassuring texts, and heads bowed together long after the sun has set.
That’s where the scent of God lies—through neighbors and toddlers, headlines and news reports, in the creation of birds, through you and me.
And if we stop to take notice of how the wind blows through our fingers and how the birds fly in tandem with each other, then that spool of thread will wind back up. Hope will return.
In all of life’s suffering and joy and mess, God is near. That much I know.