IN GABRIEL Garcia Marquez’s story “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” the couple Pelayo and Elisenda one stormy night found a strange creature by the beach: A very old man with frayed wings lying face down on the mud. The startled couple examined the creature, roughly guessing he was perhaps some Norwegian with wings, washed ashore from a shipwreck.
But this could be an angel, one neighbor cried, although that did not sit well with how the couple imagined a divine creature. They decided to place him in a chicken coop, while curious onlookers fed him with all sorts of things, including mothballs. While the hypothesis came aplenty about the old man with wings—including that of a priest who surmised that the creature wasn’t an angel for failing to interact with him in Latin—a mass of people started to come. The couple saw business opportunity, charging them admission, and eventually amassing wealth in the process.
However, the supposed angel’s popularity waned when a carnival featuring a talking spiderwoman came to town. People trooped to the carnival and were mesmerized by the tales the spiderwoman weaved.
With the usual fare at the chicken coop dwindling, the couple, now secured in their wealth, left the pen to decay. One day, recovering from fever, the very old man with enormous wings slowly flapped his wings and eventually gained flight into the horizon. From her kitchen window, Elisenda watched him fading into the far sky and couldn’t care less.
Marquez’s allegory goes many ways, but this time, we’ll try to read it along the holiday season’s theme. Those who fell in line for the old man with wings to seek miracles were instead rewarded in odd ways: the blind, instead of gaining sight, grew three new teeth; sunflowers sprouted on a leper’s sores.
It was, however, clear for the couple Pelayo and Elisenda that, despite the angel’s unceremonious departure, they have already bulked up riches, but could not quite attribute their life’s progress to the strange guest.
This part of the tale says a lot about human nature. How we often miss to catch the oftentimes subtle ways some blessings arrive in our lives only because they didn’t come in the manner we imagined them. The angel’s presence and silence was the easiest to miss in the circus of things while the couple embraced their new-found affluence. The angel didn’t come garbed in divinest clothes, didn’t descend from a ray of light breaking through clouds. It was an old man with tattered wings in the mud on a stormy night.
This thing we need to remember in case you feel like you’ve been shortchanged by life this Christmas. Be still, be wild and wide-eyed, there must be a handful of subtle blessings you can live by. Or big, horrible ones that may just be just under your nose, like an old man with enormous wings.
Dear readers, we do have a blessed Christmas! Be merry!