My mom called them angel walkways.
She’d look across the wide desert valley, nodding to where a single slice of golden sunlight cut through the grey slate clouds, making a beam of sunlight that looked almost solid. “Look,” she’d say from the front seat of the family car, shepherding my sister and I from one activity to another, or across the valley and the glittering Strip to visit our Nana. “It’s an angel walkway.”
My sister and I would rush to see, craning our necks over the worn fabric of the seats until we could see it, that single brushstroke of sunlight lighting up the grey of the clouds and the slate of the mountains and the taupe of the desert dirt and the black of the heart of this Sin City we called home.
It looked like magic, like something not of the dusty valley, like a portal to a new world. I’d watch the walkway until the towering buildings of the Strip blotted it out, or until the clouds broke apart and the walkway disintegrated, turning out to be as ethereal and fleeting as a desert snowfall.
But until then, I’d stare at the walkway, imagining angels—or maybe even Jesus— descending and looking out across the valley. They would smile and hold their arms open in greeting, happy to be there, on that golden beam of sunlight. If I stared at enough walkways, I was sure I would see something like magic.
As I got older, my imagination shifted, no longer content to wait for magic. I’d imagine myself on the buttery gold walkway, ascending into a world of clouds. I’d run my hands over clouds fluffy and sweet like whipped cream and step over delicate pink and glittering peach cloud snowbanks, and all the while the clouds would wisp around me, welcoming me to this rare place, to this place where I was the only inhabitant, where it was just me and the angels watching
over me from somewhere just out of sight, and where the wind whispered magic in my ears and across my skin. I’d imagine playing there amongst the clouds until the stars began to peak overhead, gently twinkling down at me to remind me that dinner was soon, and wasn’t it Wednesday, macaroni and cheese night?
And as I got older still, the walkways became rarer, or maybe I just forgot to look for them. When I did notice them, I tended to ignore them, unwilling or unable to take that long journey up, the golden sunbeam looking insubstantial.
But one Sunday, while taking the long way to my parents’ for the Sunday game night I had found myself unable to stomach since my Nana passed, I found myself stuck in traffic. And there it was—a cluster of angel walkways that looked close enough to touch. To climb. I imagined carefully ascending, concentrating on each step. I’d breathe a sigh of relief at the top, pausing to catch my breath. I’d squint against the harsh desert sunlight, even more brilliant above the clouds, until I could see that I was surrounded by angels. And I’d gasp, realizing that these weren’t the mysterious, anonymous angels of my youth. There would be my grandfather, with wings sounding like jazz as they caught the breeze, playing a song I hadn’t heard since I was a little girl. And there’d be Nana, her wings dyed in the same inky bright purples and pinks she used in the painting that hangs in my living room, the last painting she made. And there’s my best friend from grad school, wings festooned in the bright and boisterous flowers she wore in her hair, even throughout her last days in the hospital.
It is overwhelming, seeing these loved ones and so many others, family and friends and acquaintances and pets, all here, all smiling, all telling me with their eyes that it’s okay, the guilt you carry over our last meeting, the call you didn’t make, the effort you could have made, the time you felt you wasted. It’s okay.
I stay there in that magic of love and forgiveness, of seeing and being seen, of doubtlessness and knowing that it’s okay here, in this place above the clouds, this place that is only a walkway away. But the shadows grow long, the stars twinkle out until their gentle reminder that I need to go home becomes more of a nudge. Suddenly rebellious, I look over my shoulders for my own wings. But my shoulders are just my shoulders. Nana smiles at me, and my grandfather winks. “Isn’t it Sunday?” he asks, his voice much stronger than I remembered it through those last years of Parkinson’s. “You know how your dad hates to lose an opportunity to beat you in Parcheesi.”
And I can hear them, my mom and my dad and my sister, making popcorn and arguing over which game to play. Somewhere, I hear a faint buzzing and I know they are calling me. Calling me home. And so I go.
I pause on the way down, no longer fearful of falling. I glance back, and there they are— those loved ones with their smiles and their knowing eyes. I take a breath, the wind whisking away a tear or several. And I look out over the valley I call home, watching the lights, so many lights, turn on and smear the dusk technicolored. I see a family of quail scurry across a dirt road, taking shelter for the night, and there’s a jackrabbit, just barely rustling the sage as it cozies in. And there’s my parents’ house, a track house like any other in the valley, but distinguishable to me, who loves that home and the people in it.
I see the walkways more frequently now, and it feels like magic again. It is the magic of the grace of forgiveness, of calling upon angels and feeling only love, and of finding your way home.
Kourtney Jai is a lawyer, writer, and yogi currently living in the Bay Area, California. She has an MA in English Literature from the University of Connecticut and she can usually be found staring out the window, wishing for rain.