About 25 years ago I injured my back working UPS in NYC. I was in the physical prime of my life and pulled up lame schlepping what felt like car batteries up the steps of a brownstone in Riverside. It was a humbling experience, and one that cost me a potential career at UPS. I ended up with a couple of herniated discs way down in my lower spine. There were two options, physical therapy or surgery. I talked to a couple of dudes who had the surgery. They both used canes as men in their 30s. I opted for PT and was told I’d spend the rest of my life managing the pain. 

Since then I’ve had flareups that knocked me out for days, but they’ve become less frequent as the years go by. Probably commiserate with my physical activity as I age–but I exercise more now than at any point in my life. Because (as you’ll see if you too are lucky enough to age) I must. 

Anyway, a few weeks ago my back started getting tight. It wasn’t disc-related, however. I know the difference. Still, it was tight and, as a result, the muscles were squeezing my spine. I stretch as part of my routine workout regimen, but stretching wasn’t helping much. Then on Sunday (December 23) as we were walking the dogs back through the park, disc pain hit. 

As I was walking. WTH?

Just so you know—disc pain hurts. Bad. Like someone is stabbing your spinal cord with a knife. You can’t move your legs and immediately realize just how much you need your legs. You also immediately realize that legs are heavy AF. So I spent most all day Sunday on the couch with a heating pad on my lower back hoping to loosen things up. There was no sleep Sunday night. For either of us. Every time I turned in my sleep, even slightly, I’d involuntarily wail in pain. 

Christmas Eve morn, I limp out of bed and we decide to hit up Urgent Care, since the last time this happened with so much ferocity, it took prescription drugs over a week to bang it out. A while later, as I got lost in a rabbit hole online, I heard a faint sound. At first I paid no mind, as it sounded like a distant siren rising above my tinnitus. Then it happened again. And I noticed it wasn’t as siren-like as it was angelic. I looked up from my computer and around the room. No one was near. I turn back to the laptop and it happens for a third time. Even louder. And definitely like a choir of some kind.

WHAT IS THAT? I shout. 

No one answered. 

I jump up and walk to another room. I no longer hear the sound, but wanted to see whether anyone else had. 

My daughter was in her bedroom on her computer and said she didn’t hear anything. I walked to my bedroom and … then … realize … I am walking without pain. Like, zero pain. 

I burst into our bathroom where my wife was taking a shower and said, “Am I still alive?” 

You never know. It was a choir of angels, after all. 

She confirmed that I was indeed still living. 

I told her everything. How I heard angels and jumped up out of my chair and walked with no pain. She starts laughing. 


“It’s just your life, man. It’s just your life.” 

She knows. She’s been witness to these kinds of things our whole relationship. I met her after I heard “the voice” which turned my life from darkness to light. Literally. But she’s seen these interventions occur over and over and over again. And at some point you can only laugh. 

I’d been in a dark place in the days leading up to Christmas. Holidays have a tendency to do that to me, even now. Memorial Day this year was the worst day I’ve had in sobriety. And I could feel myself sinking into that same place. A place deep within myself–which is dangerous territory. Don’t surround yourself with yourself, and all that. 

Then there were angels. And suddenly I’m in the midst of what feels like an epiphany. Because that’s exactly what it was. All day on Christmas Eve my mind was in a very good place. There was no space for darkness. 

Sure, I could no doubt justify all this away with science. After all, there was a radio on in the house playing an M83 station (though I didn’t hear it). But ever since that first day long ago when I heard a voice that altered my life, I don’t believe in coincidences. Nothing is insignificant. 

I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know why any of these things continue to happen. I don’t. And believe me, I’ve thought this through a lot over the years. But the thing is, once you have one of these serendipitous collisions with a higher power or universal spirit, you don’t ever get to pretend it didn’t happen. You will always wonder why. And then, if you’re lucky, you get to a point where you seek these things out. You begin to expect them. 

That’s the definition of faith, I think. 

But on Christmas Eve morning I wasn’t thinking like that. I was not even close to that. I was in pain and pissed.

Then I heard angels.

Perhaps it is all just random. And that I’m manufacturing everything through a childlike imagination (though my wife can attest that this would be impossible considering the kinds of things that have occurred.)

Or maybe there’s no other reason than for one insignificant soul to have a relationship with God. To be a small light on the vast ocean of humanity. 

Yeah, that’s probably it. And I’m good with that. 



The Truth About Branding

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.