After many months of travelling around the world, I became very comfortable exploring on my own. But now, late at night in New York City, I hit a snag.
'No L! No L! Take the M', decried a janitor, as I waited at point number two of thirteen on my hand-written instructions.
'Sorry?' I said, desperate for further clarification.
'No L! No L! Take the M', I was reminded, with exactly zero amount of clarification. Presuming the L train was out of service and I was to now take the M train, I made my way back up the stairs.
I found myself standing under a clearly marked sign for the M train, when a man in uniform came directly towards me and told me that I was 'standing in the wrong place'.
I looked at the 50 other people also waiting in the same place as me, and wondered how he knew which train I was catching, why no one else was being told to move, and whether I was being conned.
He pointed across the double set of train tracks and told me to wait there—which, by the way, was not marked for the M train at all. I prepared myself to be on a candid camera show, or worse, for an imminent mugging, and headed to where he had directed me.
I was definitely being conned.
My over-thinking brain went into hyper drive as I started to think about the people standing near me and what their motives might be—when only moments later the desired M train arrived.
I boarded the train and instantly started to survey the scantily-detailed subway map to see where I was now headed and what I needed to do to get back on track. My hand-written instructions hadn't catered for this, but at least I was in an English-speaking country.
'Where are you trying to get to?' asked a seemingly-friendly man in a suit.
'Just to my hostel', I replied briefly, trying to get another stalker off my scent.
'What exit are you after?' still friendly, as though he hadn't got the message.
I told him the exit, to which he replied, 'Me too'.
He pulled out an iPad and said, 'there's a special bus that's been put on for this detour, I'll see how we link up with it'.
He ended up being a resident in the same hostel as me, having already checked in a few days prior. He found the information we needed through Google, located where we were on Google Maps, and we walked and talked happily through the different transfers until we arrived at the hostel.
We were the only ones who used that detour from that train.
I'm not saying he was an angel, but in a moment of confusion and uncertainty he most definitely seemed like one.
Angels have harps, not iPads
Too often I find it easy to try and do things my own way—and get lost—rather than being open to God helping me through other people: their words, their generosity, their practical assistance.
I relayed this story to a friend a few weeks after it happened, and she said 'Sounds like you met an angel with an iPad'. We both laughed because, well, it's absurd, but a little part of me has never forgotten this comment.
It's very natural for me to become cynical about not hearing from God enough—if at all—without taking time to be aware of God surrounding me with people. I mean, I believe God is able to speak through others, so why don't I make myself more available?
I see items in the newspaper about awful things happening to people on a daily basis, and I wonder who God wants us to be for others.
Angels with iPads?
With the gumption to engage a stranger on a subway?
May we all be more aware of how God is working in and around us on a daily basis—even when it doesn't seem like it.
Matt Browning is a storyteller and lover of ideas. He is currently setting up a social enterprise for youth unemployment in Rotorua, New Zealand—taking youth who are dropping out of high school or coming out of youth prison, and hiring them full time so that they can get the experience needed to be hired in the future.
Matt Browning's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html