Arts & Tradition

‘An Angel in Disguise’: Strength Disguised as Weakness

BY Kate Vidimos TIMEJune 19, 2022 PRINT

When we think of heroes, we think of strong, brave men like Alexander the Great or Charlemagne. Such men overcome weakness and vice and learn self-control. They face trials that test their worth, and they overcome the desolation and misery of evil.

Yet, in his short story “An Angel in Disguise,” T.S. Arthur proves that such virtues are not always found in the strongest or most courageous people. Sometimes the greatest love, bravery, and strength can be found in the weakest among us.

Arthur presents crippled, little Maggie. With her mother dead and her siblings taken from her, Maggie can only lie in bed. Arthur illustrates “the loneliness, the pain, the sorrow that must be on all her coming life.” Such a bitter situation might produce anger and ill temper, but she never curses her situation even though none of the neighbors will take her, “a bed-ridden child.”

Yet Maggie’s innocence, perseverance, and absolute helpless state do affect one neighbor, Mr. Joe Thompson. The energy in Maggie’s frail figure touches and inspires him. He sees, as G.K. Chesterton says in “Moral Education in a Secular World,” that “a child is weaker than a man if it comes to a fight or to knowledge of the world; but there is nothing to show that the child is weaker in will or in desire.” Despite her physical frailty, Maggie is strong inside and her inner strength shines.

Maggie not only awakens tenderness in Mr. Thompson’s heart, but she also softens Mrs. Thompson’s angry heart. With a “vinegar-temper,” Mrs. Thompson is not “much given to self-denial for others’ good.” Through a selfish, intemperate, and idle life, Mrs. Thompson has grown sore, cold, and miserable. But as Mr. Thompson brings Maggie home, he carries a light into the darkness of the desolate house.

Maggie’s strength to acknowledge her weaknesses and never lose sight of hope inspires Mr. and Mrs. Thompson. Her unfailing kindness and love to both (even though Mrs. Thompson spurns and rejects her) softens their hearts. And, especially, her value as a child melts their hearts. For, Mr. Thompson says, the Savior blessed the children and blessed those who helped them.

Through Maggie’s sweetness, Joe gains the courage to stand up against his wife’s temper and help her live more joyfully. Through Maggie’s light-filled presence, Mrs. Thompson rises out of the dark desolation of her selfish, intemperate life and begins to love and care for Maggie. Mrs. Thompson learns, as Thomas Aquinas says, that “to love is to will the good of the other.”

Chesterton perfectly describes the situation in “Heretics”: “Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong.” While others around her fall victim to doubt, Maggie rises to the challenge and finds strength and bravery in her weakness. She may be crippled, but she is strong enough to endure her plight and shows this strength to those around her.

Though her body might not have the physical strength of an Alexander the Great or Charlemagne, she matches their will and determination. Like them, Maggie leads others to live better, more loving lives. She bravely faces the trials, sorrows, and pain in her life and, ultimately, proves her worth.

Like Maggie, we can be strong, never letting despair or difficulty break us. When we adopt this loving yet fearless quality, we gain that strength. We can face our trials and, despite our weaknesses, prove our worth.

From ‘After a Shadow and Other Stories’
By T.S. Arthur
Kessinger Publishing, LLC, reprint, Sept. 10, 2010
Hardback: 124 pages

 

Kate Vidimos
Kate Vidimos is a 2020 graduate from the liberal arts college, University of Dallas, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English. She plans on pursuing all forms of storytelling (specifically film) and is currently working on finishing and illustrating a children’s book.
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