The subway as a religious experience

Julie has a story about how an angel made riding a Segway is a religious experience. Well, I’ll see your Segway and raise you one Subway.

Back when I was still a bright-eyed neophyte philangelus, I devoured every reliable book I could get about angels. As I mentioned before, I did most of my reading on the subway on the way home from high school (and given the general reliability of the subway, I’d often have long stretches of sitting in tunnels or at stations, so as you can imagine, I got a lot of reading done! Twice a quarter I’d end up being late for school, and it was always due to the subway getting stuck somewhere.)

All of these books stated that in addition to individuals having their own personal guardian angels, angels were assigned over countries, institutions, locations, and organizations. (You can see this in the book of Daniel, by the way, with a guardian of Persia, and in Revelation with the angels of the seven churches.)

I realized pretty quickly that if Liechtenstein could have its own guardian angel, and it was smaller than Brooklyn, then surely the New York City subway system should have its own too. I mean, Liechtenstein has a population far far smaller than the number of people moved by any single one of the lines every day! So, in my own inimitable fashion, I said hello to him and thanked him for everything he does.

End of story, right?

Five months later, my report card came home, and I realized that for the past two semesters, I had no latenesses at all. When, as I’ve stated, I’d consistently had two per quarter due to subway malfunctions.

I paid attention and realized how often a train was right there when I arrived at the platform, or how often I ended up standing right where the door would stop. Or how often I’d be standing next to the one person who got up, getting me a seat.

It all added up in a hurry. I thanked the guardian of the transit authority again, apologized for not realizing he was looking out for me, and then began a campaign of thanking him whenever something went right.

This went on for the remaining seven years I was in New York. I eventually began calling him “The G.A.T.A.” and sometimes I’d just chatter at him the way I’d chattered at my own guardian. There were several occasions where I asked for specific help, and it would happen. I can’t go into all the details here (this entry is already pretty long) but he helped immensely. And once he asked me to pray for something too!

I can share one story. In order to get to the closest subway stop, I had to either walk a mile and a half, or else take a bus down Flatlands Avenue. Three bus lines went down Flatlands: the B6, and B11, and the B82. (It’s been renumbered, but I’m using the new one instead of the old one in case you still live there.)

One day I told the GATA, “I love getting the B82s, even though they practically never come, because they’re not going anywhere important. They’re hardly ever crowded and you can always get a seat.”Β 

It’s true: the B6 and the B11 went over by Brooklyn College and to more crowded parts of Brooklyn; plus, they crossed other bus lines, so everyone tended to wait for those. The B82 went up Flatlands and then continued up Flatlands when the other two broke off at Ralph Avenue. It came about once every half hour, as opposed to the other two lines which came once every three minutes if you weren’t particular. I’d go a month at a time without seeing a B82.

Right after that, I started getting the B82 just about every time. I turned it into a game: the B82 would arrive, and I would think, “An angel loves me,” and I would thank him for it.

It must be a lonely job, guarding a subway system that eleven million people love to hate. But he (or his team) does a good job, and I guess he appreciated having someone to notice. I’ve since included him in Seven Archangels: Annihilation, and if my romantic comedy gets published, he shows up there once as well.

An embarrassingly bad drawing I made of him back in high school

An embarrassingly bad drawing I made of him back in high school

One of the joys of going back to New York and riding the subway is that I’m in his “territory” again, and I make sure to say hello.


  1. Jason Block

    I remember both the B5 and B50(the lines you are referencing) aging myself of course. And the 50 would always have seats. Always!

  2. karen ^.,.^

    i really love the drawing! πŸ™‚

  3. knit_tgz

    Oh… You’re so sweet! I am sure he was happy to have one more friend πŸ™‚

  4. knit_tgz

    By the way, could you suggest some reliable, orthodox books on angels (I do not mean Orthodox, though those will probably be orthodox too)…

  5. philangelus

    I presume you want Catholic books: try “Beyond Space” by Pascal Parente. (Actually, just look for “Pascal Parente” because they redid the title and I forget what it is now.)

    Also “All About the Angels” by Paul O’Sullivan.

    I own but haven’t read “Angels (And Demons)” by Peter Kreeft.

    “Angels and Devils” by Joan Carroll Cruz

    And for an Orthodox book, “The Holy Angels” by Mother Alexandra.

    A few Protestant/Evangelical books too: Angels by Billy Graham, What the Bible says about Angels by David Jeremiah, and Angels Light And Dark, by I forget who.

    Karen, I’m glad you like the drawing. Most of my drawings from that era are awful. I’m looking for two more that have gone missing just so they’re all in one place. I may have a big art-burning party.

  6. Jenni

    That’s awesome! I wish I’d read this before our adventure in New York 3 years ago. πŸ™‚

  7. philangelus

    If wherever you’re living now has a public transportation system, it may have its own guardian too.

  8. knit_tgz

    Thanks for the book list: yes, I was looking for Catholic books, but books that are as orthodox in their angelology as can be. Kreeft sprung to mind, yes.

    One thing I never understood were the nations guardians. I mean, my country is stable since the 12th century, and we don’t see ourselves as several nations, but take my neighbouring country, Spain. They can’t even reach an agreement on how many historical nations they are! Maybe in those cases there is a team of angels assigned to that country? (Yes, I am an academic… πŸ˜‰ )

  9. philangelus

    I’ve got a post on this coming up in a few days, but I imagine teams of angels that are organized under one presiding angel. So the guardian of Spain might well have twenty angels working beneath him in his structure.

  10. karen ^.,.^

    no, no – no art burning parties! that angel was probably very pleased to have his portrait drawn, it came from the heart. and it’s not like he could step into a kodak photo booth and have some snap-shots taken (eyes more blinding than the flash and wings way too big!) what i see when i look at that picture, is jason with wings. πŸ™‚

  11. philangelus

    ROTFLOL! No, I don’t think *that* angel is “Jason with wings.” πŸ™‚ Although I do imagine him as a mechanic half the time.

    The artwork is pretty bad for the most part, except when I was doing stick figures. Either I traced comic book panels (so it looks like comic book characters) or else I tried drawing freehand and it stank, at which point I’d put silly captions on the drawing to indicate exactly how badly it stank. Writing was definitely more a strong suit than drawing! πŸ™‚

  12. ivyreisner

    If you don’t mind books from a Jewish perspective, knittingthrough, then try A Gathering of Angels by Rabbi Morris B. Margolies. He looks at angels in the Bible, but also in the Talmud, the Zohar and in a variety of Kaballistic texts. While you’re at it, read the Zohar if you haven’t yet. It’s amazing.

  13. philangelus

    Agh, I forgot that one when I skimmed the shelves. I do actually have a copy. I’ve never read the Zohar, though.

    I also have a bunch of other less-memorable works. And there was one book that messed up my spirituality for a month with its interpretation of angels. (And yes, it purported to be orthodox. It was just…obnoxious.)

  14. CricketB

    One of the “messages” I keep reiterating to my kids is that, while you can’t totally control things, many people who feel the world is out to get them helped create the situation. Simplest example is not clearing the path to the bathroom before going to bed. (There are many things we can’t control, but if we do what we can, the odds improve.)

    No, I don’t think it’s silly to thank an angel. The most selfish view is he’ll do nice things for you again. Less selfish is it helps you see the good things, so you don’t feel the world is out to get you. Least selfish is it’s easier to do a good job if it’s appreciated, and I’m sure the rest of the city appreciated fewer malfunctions as well.

    Maybe Guardian Angels for countries are a committee of all the angels of the people in it. Maybe a hive mind. Maybe a shared consciousness. Maybe bits if each angel join the a group mind. Really not sure, but I don’t like the idea of angels having “bosses” other than God. I see them working as teams, and maybe having facilitators, but overall looking for the greatest good and agreeing on it, not having a boss make a decision. Real fuzzy analogy. Probably break down if I think about it, but it fits at the moment.

  15. Pingback: weblog tour: where I live « Seven angels, four kids, one family

  16. Lirioroja

    Hi, I just surfed over here from Julie’s Happy Catholic blog. I had to comment because, as a life-long resident of NYC it never occured to me that the MTA has a guardian angel. Makes a lot of sense. It’s just easier to hate and blame the MTA. So now I’ll ask the GATA for help, especially on the weekends when my train usually has service disruptions (for maintenance but I rarely see anyone working on anything). Oh, and on weekends often have to ride the B82 to the next train line over to get to a Manhattan bound train. It’s more frequent than every half hour these days but not nearly frequent enough if you ask me. I’m guessing from your artwork and your story you lived in Canarsie? I’m a born-n-bred Brooklynite: born in Flatbush, teens and tweenties in Sheepshead Bay, now live in Gravesend.

  17. philangelus

    I was actually born in the Bronx, but I lived in Brooklyn from age five until I moved out of the city, and yes, Canarsie.

    Say hi to him for me. πŸ™‚

  18. Marg

    Thanks for visiting my blog~This was of particular interest to me, because my brother travels, and he was the first one to tell me about guardian angels for each country, state, city, area …you get the picture. What a comfort!