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Through different eyes
When I was two years old the doctor told my mother I was "retarded."
When I was a baby, my mother noticed that I always seemed to be in a world of my own. I can even remember lying in a cot--a big basket--and seeing my mother bending over me. Surrounding my mother I saw wonderful bright, shiny beings in all the colors of the rainbow; they were much bigger than I was, but smaller than her--about the size of a three-year-old child. These beings floated in the air like feathers; and I remember reaching out to touch them, but I never succeeded. I was fascinated by these creatures with their beautiful lights. At that time I didn't understand that I was seeing anything different from what other people saw; it would be much later that I learned from them that they were called angels.
As the months passed, my mother noticed that I'd always be looking or staring somewhere else, no matter what she'd do to try to get my attention. In truth, I was somewhere else: I was away with the angels, watching what they were doing and talking and playing with them. I was enthralled.
I was a late talker, but I had been conversing with angels from very early on. Sometimes we used words as you and I understand them, but sometimes no words were needed--we would know each other's thoughts. I believed that everyone else could see what I saw, but then the angels told me that I was not to say anything to anyone about seeing them, that I should keep it a secret between us. In fact, for many years I listened to the angels and I didn't tell people what I saw. It is only now in writing this book that I am for the first time telling much of what I have seen.
The doctor's comment when I was just two was to have a profound effect on my life: I realized that people can be very cruel. At the time I was born, in 1953, my parents lived in Old Kilmainham, near the center of Dublin. My father rented a little bicycle repair shop there, which had a cottage attached. If you walked through the shop and around to the left you would come to a tiny and fairly dilapidated house. It was part of a row of old cottages and shops, but most of them were empty or abandoned because they were in such bad condition. For much of the time we lived in the one little room downstairs: here we cooked, ate, talked, played, and even washed in a big metal basin in front of the fire. Although the house had no bathroom, outside in the back garden, down a little path, was a shed with a loo. Upstairs there were two small bedrooms; at first I shared one of the bedrooms, and a bed, with my older sister Emer.
It wasn't just angels I was seeing (and I saw them constantly--from the moment I woke up until I went to sleep), but also the spirits of people who had died. My brother, Christopher, had been born a year before me but he had died when he was only about ten weeks old. Although I never saw him while he was alive, I could visualize him--he was dark haired, while my sister and I were fair--and I could also play with him in spirit.
At the time I thought there was nothing strange about this; it felt as if he was just another child, although he seemed a little brighter in appearance. One of the first things that made me realize that he was different, though, was that his age could change. Sometimes he appeared as a baby, but other times he looked about the same age as me, toddling across the floor. He wasn't there constantly, either, but seemed to come and go.
Late one cold winter afternoon, just as it was getting dark, I was alone in the little living room of the house in Old Kilmainham. There was fire in the open fireplace, which was the only light in the room. The firelight flickered across the floor where I was sitting playing with little wooden building blocks that my father had made. Christopher came to play with me. He sat nearer the fire--he said that it was too hot for me where he was, but it was okay for him as he didn't feel the heat. Together we built a tower. I would put one brick down and he would put another on top of it. The tower was getting very tall and then, suddenly, our hands touched. I was amazed--he felt so different from other people I touched. When I touched him he sparked; it was as if there were little stars flying. At that moment I went into him (or perhaps he went into me); it was as if we merged and became one. In my shock I knocked over our tower of blocks!
I burst out laughing, then I touched him again. I think that was the first time I fully realized that he wasn't flesh and blood.
I never confused Christopher with an angel; the angels I saw did sometimes have a human appearance, but when they did, most of them had wings and their feet did not touch the ground and they had a sort of bright light shining inside them. Some of the time the angels I saw would have no human aspect at all, but appeared as a sharp glowing light.
Christopher appeared around my mum a lot. Sometimes Mum would be sitting in the chair by the fire and would doze off, and I'd see him cradled in her arms. I didn't know whether my mother was aware of Christopher's presence so I asked him, "Will I tell Mum that you're here?"
"No, you can't tell her," he replied. "She won't understand. But sometimes she feels me."
One winter morning the angels came to my bed as the sun was coming up. I was curled up under the blankets; my sister Emer, with whom I shared the bed, was up and about and instead Christopher was curled up beside me. He tickled me and said, "Look, look, Lorna--over at the window."
As I have said, angels can appear in different forms and sizes; this morning they looked like snowflakes! The glass in the window seemed to become a vapor, and as each snowflake hit the window it was transformed into an angel about the size of a baby. The angels were then carried on a beam of sunlight through the window, and each one seemed to be covered in white and shiny snowflakes. As the angels touched me the snowflakes fell from them onto me; they tickled as they landed and, surprisingly, they felt warm, not cold.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful," Christopher said, "if everybody knew that they could fill their pockets with angels; that they could fit thousands of angels into one pocket, just like with snowflakes, and could carry them around with them and never be alone."
I turned and asked, "What if they melted in their pockets?"
Christopher giggled and said, "No! Angels never melt!"
I rather sadly replied, "Christopher, I wish that you could fit in my mum's pocket like a snowflake, and be there for her all the time."
He turned and looked at me, as we were cuddled up in bed, and said, "You know I'm there already."
When I was an adult my mother told me she had had a baby son called Christopher who had been born a year before me but had only lived ten weeks. I just smiled in response. I remember asking her where Christopher was buried, and she told me that it was in an unmarked grave (as was the custom in those days) in a baby's graveyard in Dublin.
It's sad that there is no grave with his name on it that I can go and visit, but he's not forgotten. Sometimes even now, all these years later, I feel Christopher's hand in my pocket pretending to make snowflakes, reminding me I am never alone.
I learned more about Christopher and my mother one day when I was about four or five years old. I was sitting at the table swinging my legs and eating breakfast when I caught a glimpse of Christopher looking as if he were about twelve years old, running across the room to the shop door just as my mother walked in with some toast. She had a big smile on her face as she said, "Lorna, there is a surprise for you in the back workroom under Da's workbench!"
I jumped up from the table, all excited, and followed Christopher. He went straight through the shop and into the dark workshop; I had to stop at the door because it was so dark in there that I couldn't see anything and I needed my eyes to adjust to the darkness. However, Christopher was just like a light, a soft shimmering glow that lit up a path for me through the cluttered workshop. He called out, "The cat has had kittens!" And there, thanks to Christopher's light, I could see four tiny little kittens--three were _jet-_black, and one was black and white. They were so beautiful, so soft and glossy. The mother cat, Blackie, got out of the box, stretched herself, then jumped out of the little window into the garden. I ran after her and called to Christopher to come too, but he would not come into the garden.
I walked back in and asked Christopher, "Why wouldn't you come outside?"
He took my hand, as if to comfort me--I loved the touch of his hand--and our hands merged again. It felt magical; it made me feel safe and happy.
"Lorna, when babies die their spirits stay with their mothers for as long as they are needed, so I stay here with Mum. If I went outside it would be like breaking those memories--and that I won't do!"
Even at that young age, I knew what he meant. My mother had poured so much love into him: all the memories she had of being pregnant and carrying him inside her, the birth, the joy and the happiness she had holding him in her arms and bringing him home--when even then she had a feeling that something was wrong, despite what the doctors told her. Mum had a precious few weeks at home with Christopher before he died, and Christopher told me of all the love that she had poured on him, and he now poured that love on her.
So my spirit brother would remain in the house, never going out, until the day came when it seemed that my mum felt strong enough to move on and was ready to let my little brother go. That day was the day when we had to leave that little shop in Old Kilmainham for good.
When I see an angel I want to stop and stare; I feel like I am in the presence of a tremendous power. When I was younger the angels generally adopted a human form--to make it easier for me to accept them--but now that's no longer necessary. The angels I see don't always have wings, but when they do I am sometimes amazed by their form; occasionally they are like flames of fire, and yet they have shape and solidity. Some of the angels' wings have feathers; one angel had wings that were so slender, tall, and pointed that I found it hard to _believe that they were wings. I wanted to ask the angel to open them up.
When angels have a human appearance--with or without wings--their eyes are one of their most fascinating features. Angel eyes are not like human eyes; they are so alive, so full of life and light and love. It's as if they contain the essence of life itself--their radiance fills you completely.
I have never seen an angel's feet actually touch the ground; when I see one walking toward me I see what looks like a cushion of energy between the ground and their feet. Sometimes it looks like a thin thread, but other times this cushion grows between the earth and the angel, and even sinks into the earth itself.
Ever since I was very young there was one particular angel who used to appear to me often. The first time I saw him he was in the corner of the bedroom and he just said, "Lorna." In some ways he looked like other angels, but there was something different about him, too; he shone more strongly than the others and he had a commanding presence, a powerful force of male strength. From that first time I saw him I always felt he was ready to protect me, like a shield, and from then on he kept appearing and gradually I befriended him. He told me his name was Michael.
School was difficult for me; most of the teachers treated me as if I were slow. My First Holy Communion was at school when I was six, and it was horrible. It should have been a very special day--as it is for most Irish children. When we were preparing for First Holy Communion in the classroom the teachers would ask the children questions, checking that they had learned their catechism, but they wouldn't bother with me; they'd say, "There is no point asking you!" And when all the other children had to stand in line and say something about the Communion, I would stand in line, too, but then I'd be dragged out and told to go and sit down. As a young child this really hurt. So while I sat down at the back of the class or on one of the benches in the corner I'd ask my angels, "Don't they know that I know my catechism, too? They aren't even giving me a chance."
Then in church on my First Communion day, as I finally made my way up to the altar I was grabbed by the arm and pulled out of the queue again because the teacher decided that the better girls should go ahead of me.
There were some kind people, though; when I was about four there was a nun called (I think) Mother Moderini. She had been told that I was slow and "retarded," but I felt she knew better. When I was in her class she would come down and ask me little questions to which I always knew the answer, so then she'd smile and rub my head.
But despite these occasional acts of kindness from a few people, I grew up an outsider. People could see that I was different and they just couldn't understand it. That aspect of my life has been very, very hard--and it still is today. People say I'm too trusting, too truthful for this world, but I cannot be any other way! The strange thing is, that to be truthful in every way--in how you think and in how you speak--and to be truthful to those around you is hard and it does tend to isolate you.
The way people think about or look at me does affect me greatly even now. Even though they may not know me, or know what I do, they know that on some level I am different. If I go out with friends and meet someone new who knows nothing about me, they will often report back to my friends that there is something unusual about me, something that they can't quite put their finger on. This can be difficult to live with.
From the Hardcover edition.