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Excerpted from A Book of Angels by Sophy Burnham. Copyright © 1990 by Sophy Burnham. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"When I asked her, my mother's face took on a dreamy and exalted look."

Sophy Burnham, A Book of Angels, Part 1

Once my mother saw an angel. She was five years old at the time, just a little girl in her nightie, getting ready for bed, when she looked up and saw an angel standing in the bedroom door.

"Auntie!" She pointed at the figure. "Look!" But her beloved auntie could not see.

"Go to sleep, child," she said. "There's nothing there."

I don't know what her angel looked like. When I asked her, my mother's face took on a dreamy and exalted look, simultaneously nostalgic and alight. She used words like brilliance or radiance, and I have the impression of many colors. But I have no idea what she saw.

The angel vanished. The grown-ups—her mother and father and aunts—explained that she was overtired and excited, that the vision was a figment of her imagination, and as the years passed, she doubted if she had really seen it. Hallucination or reality, though, she did not forget it.

My father, on the other hand, saw nothing, and it was in his intellectual spirit that we grew up. A lawyer, brilliant, warm, witty, intellectual, he loved to argue and debate. He liked to laugh and match his mind against others--and win!--in legal contests, chess, cocktail-party conversation. If he couldn't stand up in court (Supreme Court being his favorite), he'd exercise his skills on his family, us--his children. At dinner he would throw out a point of discussion like a bone on the table, then watch us leap like dogs to worry it, snarling and snapping joyfully. He'd make us defend our views against his assaults, and when he had us cornered, he'd say, "Switch sides." At which we raced to defend the very point we had shot down before. He was teaching us to think.

But he had no truck with the mysterious.

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