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FINDING THE ANGEL INSIDE YOU
Every person has this tremendous capacity to be both king and warrior, a person of value and a person of accomplishment—
of beauty and power.
Tom Cook had come to Europe looking for direction, but with only one day left on his trip he was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that it may have evaded his grasp. Feeling frustrated with the way things were going at work and at home, he had planned a two–week “getaway” vacation that he hoped would clear his head and give him the opportunity to do some soul–searching. Ultimately, he believed that his time away from the United States would relieve the pressure he felt at work and allow him to make some thoughtful decisions about his future. He had already been to England, France, and Spain, but had yet to gain any real clarity about himself or where his career was headed. He was still as confused as he’d been the day he flew out of JFK. Today was his third and final day in Florence, Italy, the last city on his itinerary—and his time there was almost gone. But then, something happened…
Florence. Firenze. City of romance, art, food, and wine. Most who go there are overwhelmed by its beauty. The greatest masterpieces in the world can be found in its museums. Some of the most famous, creative, and influential names in history were born and made their lives here. It is, in all its glory, a cultural hub of history and art beyond comparison. Tom had imagined it would be the perfect place to find direction, joy, and inspiration.
It was early afternoon and he was sitting on a bench in a bustling plaza. He was tired. Tired of traveling. Tired of searching. Tired of life. Just tired.
As he sat with his heavy backpack on the ground at his feet, Tom watched a vast sea of people coming and going, running around just as they did back home. Some of the people seemed happy, others looked like they were in a frenzy to be somewhere else, while still others walked along with their love, gazing into each other’s eyes. But all Tom saw was a sea of people that brought more questions than answers. Where are they going? What do they look forward to? Are they really happy? He hated to admit it, but he was a cynic at thirty. He certainly wasn’t happy, and couldn’t imagine that anyone else could be either. Life just didn’t work that way.
As he sat, his head slowly drifted downward into his hands as he lost eye contact with the crowd around him. He was among many but was somehow still alone. Then, just as he was feeling sorry for himself, a voice spoke.
“My, my. You look much too young and handsome to be so sad of heart,” the voice said.
Tom looked up—barely—to see who had interrupted his self–pity. It was an old man. Out of courtesy, he slowly raised his head, still not saying anything. His eyes locked on the old man, surveying him. The old man was an exercise in contrast. On one hand, he looked…rough. On the other hand, he had an elegant air about him. He was old, that was for sure. Seventy, maybe? Seventy–five? His unruly dark brown hair and scruffy beard looked ready for a trip to the barber. Medium height, thin, but with large biceps and pillar–like forearms that seemed out of place on the old man’s body. His craggy face and calloused hands had a blue–collar look about them. But the old man’s clothes revealed the taste of a connoisseur; you could tell he wasn't buying off the rack at the corner store. This was a man who knew a tailor or two. An expensive beret topped his head, and wild as it was, his hair peeked out from underneath with an artistic flair. He wore a beautifully patterned silk shirt that flowed down to the top of natty slacks. His leather shoes were impeccable.
The old man spoke again. “Yes, you are sad. I can tell.” He didn’t ask permission before sitting down next to Tom. Tom couldn’t believe this was happening. He was still caught up in being alone and depressed. “But I can also see that you certainly have much to be happy about. Tell me, what is your name?”
“Ah, yes, I see. Like the doubter?” the old man grinned. “You are doubting, aren’t you? Doubting
Thomas. What are you doubting, Thomas?”
Tom thought, What am I doubting? This is crazy. I have a crazy Italian sitting next to me. Finally he said, “Well, I appreciate your concern, but I am not really doubting anything.”
“Pardon me, Thomas. I know you must find this intrusive, but I have intuition for these kinds of things. I have been around now for a very long time. I have seen much. I see that you are doubting. But perhaps you do not like that word. Well, then, what is it that burdens you this day, Thomas?”
Tom decided to humor the old man. What could it hurt? After all, things couldn’t get worse. “Well, let’s see. I just turned thirty and I am nowhere near where I want to be in my career. My boss thinks I have zero career potential—at least it sure comes across that way because he keeps sticking me with jobs that no one else wants. My job seems like a treadmill that will never get me to where I want to go. My girlfriend just dumped me because I don’t have enough ‘upside,’ as she calls it. Even my parents wonder when I am going to begin to make something of myself. Frankly, I am beginning to believe I'm useless.”
A young couple walked by and asked the old man if he would take their picture. He obliged, and they quickly posed for him. When he was finished he returned their camera and they bounded down the street, laughing giddily.
The old man turned back to Thomas. “Useless, I see,” said the old man. “That does sound disheartening. I can see why you would be sad, even in this beautiful city. Most people here—especially the tourists—are happy.” He paused and then asked, “How long have you been in Florence?”
“This is my third day.”
"Three days. That is wonderful! When do you depart?”
“Tomorrow morning at six-thirty.”
“Oh. Not much time left then. Have you taken in any of the art?” the old man then asked.
“Sure,” Tom replied. “I took a quick tour. What would a trip to Florence be without seeing the art, right?”
“You make a very good point, young Thomas. I myself think that the art is the most important reason to come to Florence. I assume, then, that you saw Michelangelo’s work the David—Il Gigante, as they call it—The Giant?”
“Yeah, sure. That’s one of the biggies, right? No pun intended.”
“Yes, it is. The biggest in my opinion. And tell me, Thomas, what did you learn from the David?”
“Learn? Uh, I didn’t learn anything. I saw it. He was huge. Naked. It was great. I left.”
“Oh my, you didn’t learn anything from Il Gigante?” The old man looked at his watch. “It is one o’clock. Come now, we haven’t much time.” The old man began to stand as he said this.
Thomas looked up. “Come where? For what?” He was perfectly happy sitting right where he was. Now this old wannabe sage wanted to drag him off on an unscheduled tour.
“To go see Il Gigante, of course! There is so much to learn from him and from Michelangelo. Come, you will see.”
Okay, this is crazy. But the old man had an endearing quality about him. He was harmless, and besides, what else would Tom do for the rest of the afternoon other than watch birds land on the heads of statues?
Tom stood up and grabbed his backpack. “Okay. I’m game. Let’s go.”
The old man beamed broadly. “Fantastic, Thomas.” He put one arm around Tom and then said something that took Tom aback. “This day will change your life forever.”
With this, they began their journey to the foot of Il Gigante in the Galleria dell’Accademia. They made their way through the city walking at a fast pace. This old guy can really move! “Excuse me, can we slow down a bit? This backpack is kind of heavy.”
The old man barely turned back as he said, “Of course, pardon me. I am just excited to have you see Il Gigante again.” Yet his pace slowed down very little…
Down the street, across a bridge, a right turn and then a left. Tom hadn’t thought it was so far away. The old man took him through an open market, where he paused just long enough to buy some bread from a merchant he obviously knew. He broke it in half and handed a piece to Tom. “Enjoy!” he said as he headed off again. Tom wished he could stay and bask in the aroma of the baked goods. That had been his favorite part of Florence—the smells of the wine, the cheese, the bread, and the fruit. I should have eaten a bigger lunch. Every now and then the old man would say hello to someone or pat someone on the back as they went by.
Finally, they arrived at the Galleria dell’Accademia, skirting the line and going directly to the entrance. The women in the ticket office seemed to know the old man and waved them on. Tom had been here a couple of days ago. As he had mentioned to the old man, he had come because that’s what tourists do when they come to Florence—they look in awe at the David. Somehow it hadn’t struck him as awesome when he had come before. This time was different though. It seemed… otherworldly. It was a strange feeling. This time he noticed the soaring ceiling, the beauty of the room, and the sound of the hollowness of the space. People spoke little in the presence of the David.
They just looked at the statue for a moment, then the old man said with a sense of wonder, “Isn’t it beautiful? Just grand!”
“It’s big, that’s for sure.”
“Yes! It really is a giant: thirteen and a half feet tall. It took Michelangelo twenty–eight months to sculpt him from beginning to end!”
They stood silently. Tom thought that the old man sure seemed to be enjoying himself. He was looking at the statue like a proud father. It seemed kind of weird to Tom, who thought to himself, Well, we’re in the classroom. I wonder when class begins?
After what seemed like an eternity, the old man said, “Thomas, do you wonder why I brought you here?”
“Sure. The thought crossed my mind. I mean, David is great and all, and I know Michelangelo was one of the greatest artists of all time, but what does that have to do with me?”
“Very good question, Thomas. I have an answer. But first another question: What do you know about Michelangelo?”
“Let’s see. He was Italian.”
The old man laughed. “Yes, that he was.”
“Other than that, he lived in the late fourteen hundreds and early fifteen hundreds.”
“Yes. He died in 1564. It is more accurate to say the mid–fifteen hundreds. What else?”
“He was an incredible artist who painted and sculpted.”
“That’s correct. Do you know what he painted and sculpted?”
“All I know is the David and the Sistine Chapel. Right?”
“Yes, those as well as many others. Is there anything else you know about Michelangelo and Il Gigante?”
“Nope. That about covers it.”
“I see.” The old man paused to think. “Then we are ready to begin.”
“All right.” Tom could hardly imagine how this was going to go.
“Let us start with a story: One day, Michelangelo was working on this marble that would become David, and a young child came by where he was working. The young boy asked Michelangelo why he was working so hard hitting the rock. Michelangelo said to him, ‘Young boy, there is an angel inside of this rock and I am setting him free.’ ” He let the story sink in. “Do you see the point of that story, Thomas?”
Tom looked at the David and thought. After running the possibilities through his mind he said, “I would guess that he meant that he was trying to make something beautiful out of the marble.”
“You are on the right track, Thomas. But there is more.”
“Let me explain. In essence, you are correct. But there is more to it than meets the eye. Things specific to you; things that will mean something for you—for everyone, really.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Thomas, what do those who are closest to you think of you?”
“I think they like me.” He then corrected himself. “They love me. But…” Tom drifted off and looked away.
“Yes?” the old man probed.
“They don’t think much of what I have done with my life, or what I’m doing, or for that matter what I’m capable of. They think of me as your basic loser, I guess.”
“What do you mean, exactly?” the old man asked.
“They just have certain ideas about what being successful means, what I should be doing, how much money I should be making, what class of people I should be with. Things like that. Things that I am not.”
“Hmmm. That must be painful, yes?”
“Yes.” It was quite painful, in fact. Tom hadn’t expected to be psychoanalyzed.
“Let me give you the history of that big piece of marble. That marble was originally cut for work before Michelangelo was even born. In fact, it was commissioned to Agostino di Duccio in 1464—eleven years before Michelangelo came into this world. But Agostino could not decide what to do with it, so he gave up the commission. Then, in 1476, when Michelangelo was just one year old, another artist by the name of Antonio Rossellino was commissioned to work with the marble. As with Agostino, he could not see what the marble could become. Even Leonardo da Vinci was asked to consider working the marble. He declined for two reasons. First, he thought sculpting was a low form of art. He was arrogant that way. Brilliant but arrogant.” The old man rolled his eyes as if disgusted. “Second, he too could not see what that marble could become. Three artists—one of them one of the most famous ever—came before Michelangelo and could not see what that marble held deep inside. But Michelangelo, he saw the angel deep at rest within the rock, waiting to be set free to inspire Florence and the world!
“Thomas, do you see what I am trying to teach you?”