My feet touched ground high in the Rif Mountains. My body is made entirely of gold and quiet landings are impossible. I met the ground with a thunderous shake, jolting the calmness and shocking the earth. For a moment everything stopped, as if pausing to sense my presence. It is difficult for me to sneak up on anyone. Though few see spiritual beings, most are innately aware of us.
I stood near the top of a steep hill, overlooking a tiny village with white walls and brilliant azure doors. The entire town seemed painted with ice cream. I loved this part of the world and took a few moments to rest and take it all in. Leaning against an old, abandoned house of worship, I inhaled life and simplicity. From this tiny town in the mountains many prayers arose. They clamored at the gates of heaven, affecting the heart of God.
He sent me here to Simcha the Jew, a man of much prayer and little patience. He was an artist and I loved his work. If he made even the slightest flaw in a stroke or pinprick of color Simcha would tear it down from his easel and throw it into the fire. Each of those paintings came to me. I displayed them all over Heaven and Simcha the Jew was admired there. He did two things. He painted and he prayed. He no longer went to see friends. He no longer wrote, read, or taught as he’d done for many years. He was focused on the task at hand.
I folded my wings into the specially made flaps on my jacket. I would never get used to wearing human clothes. They were stifling and ridiculous, like a costume. My hands hid in gloves, but my face shone, gleaming like yellow fire. The Lord told me to ignore it. The sons of man would pay no attention to true gold; it was fools’ gold they loved. I believed Him, of course, but I could see the light of my features so sharply against the darkness of the earth. I felt conspicuous and awkward. Maybe Simcha would paint me a human face to complete the disguise.
I arrived at his doorstep, a towering nine foot giant with a hunched back of folded wings and a face like a bonfire. I thought my appearance would frighten him. But he seemed to be expecting an odd looking stranger and even invited me in with a smile.
He was full of questions, but never asked who I was or why I was there. He already seemed to know. We sat and had hot apple tea in tiny glass cups. I asked him if he had any questions about Heaven.
The wise man thought for a moment and asked, “Do people have hair and fingernails in Heaven?”
He explained, “They are made of dead cells and there is no death there.”
I smiled. What a question! I told him the answer, of course, but he didn’t believe me.
I had questions for Simcha too. Why did he paint the subjects he chose? How did he select the colors? Why did he paint in the first place? What made him choose this art over all of the others? His answer was simple. He said he didn’t know; he just did it. We were fast friends, this man and I, like we’d known each other through many trials.
At last, what I hoped for happened. Simcha offered to paint me. He’d never before seen an angel with his eyes, though many of us had visited him in secret over the years. But Simcha could not paint what he felt, only what he saw. Now he could finally paint me.
He said it would be his first, and only, perfect work. But I wanted flaws, sharp edges, and imperfection! I think this is something wondrous about mankind. I am deeply moved by you, how in all of your imperfection you can accomplish divine work. That is not possible with perfect beings, only with man. I love that you desire yourselves to be moved and transformed by God.
I begged Simcha to cover my golden face.
“Make me brown,” I pleaded, “The color of the earth and coffee and cocoa.”
He refused, saying gold was a better color and, “Why would you want to be the color of ordinary things?”
I felt like I was slamming my head against a rock. Didn’t he know how beautiful those things were to me?
Simcha’s heart sought only the perfect and pristine. But he was a kind soul, so he agreed to paint me as I wished. He said he would cover my face, but in return I would have to paint him. He smiled and I could not refuse, so eager was his grin and so innocent his request.
My gleaming face was soon covered, dark and beautiful, the color of rich cake. I caught my reflection in Simcha’s tea and could not stop myself from dancing and twirling around the room. My artist was unimpressed with his work, but quite happily watching me.
When I settled down a bit Simcha handed me the brush. He led me to the canvas, his eyes full of anticipation for at last- at last- he would see a perfect painting! He was so certain of my abilities, because I was angelic and golden. I hated to disappoint him, but I knew what was going to happen.
Thirty thousand strokes and eleven colors later, my work was complete. I had created a scene of a simple house high in the Rif Mountains, surrounded by colors rarely seen by human eyes, made up of hues they knew well and a little bit of Heaven itself. It should have been charming and serene. It should have been a spectacle of awe. But it was abysmal, the ugliest work of art ever.
Simcha stepped back to get a better view. He shouldn’t have. It was even worse from a distance. He chuckled a bit.
“Well,” he said. “That is quite awful.”
I laughed deeply, uproariously, and Simcha reluctantly joined me.
“You see,” I explained. “I am not a creator. I admire.”
Simcha understood, more than I thought he would. His grin remained, ear to ear as if he’d seen something most intriguing. He nodded knowingly as I tore my work down from the easel, balling it up and throwing it into the fire.But to our shared surprise, the flames did not destroy the imperfect work. They seemed to embrace it and devour it, though it was only changed, not burned. It seemed to rise from the ashes, transformed by the fire into a breathtaking and brilliant work of perfection. It glowed with my golden ferocity and Simcha’s passion.
The fire had changed it not to ashes, but to a wrenching scene of two figures on a mountain. One was tall and knowing; the other wise and small and through it all the startling intensity of true gold.
I have to say, it was beautiful even though it was perfect.