No Ordinary Angel


Feb. 21, 2018, Guastavino’s New York. A tribute by Arthur Lubow to Helen Lowe, a client for more than four decades.

Wow, 250 people! 250 Disciples of Helen Lowe have come from far and wide.

Why are we here?  We’re here tonight because of an angel.

Helen is no ordinary angel. To tell the truth, she’s no angel.

Actually, she’s a person of this world who is intensely demanding.

Anyone who has ever worked with her knows: she’s never satisfied, and every one of her projects goes through a process of divine chaos where up until the last possible moment, all is lost. All is ruined. And then, as if by the grace of God, the sun shines and everything miraculously comes together. No one knows how. It’s a mystery.

How does she do it?

As best I can describe, there is a divine, chaotic universe of light within Helen’s brain full of supernovas, shooting stars and beautiful planets. If you’ve ever tried to understand one of her rambling sentences, you’ve been on that celestial journey.  I would love to know what it’s like to be a synapse in Helen’s brain. It must be like living perpetually in an amusement park, trying to sleep on a roller coaster.

This is a restless, impatient angel.

Those of you who speak Helen (it’s its own language) know that none of her stories lasts longer than a first sentence.  And, they don’t need to— with openers like this:

Listen to this story-in-a-sentence:

“In my first job as a tour guide, I took a group of artificial inseminators to Italy.”

Do we really need to know any more? (We can only presume the artificial inseminators were professionals.)

And this story. Listen carefully, it won’t last long:

“In the dusk below the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a great white hunter fell madly in love with me; I still have his letters.”

A story in a sentence. Ernest Hemingway, eat your heart out.

Why are we here tonight?

Is it just because this unconventional angel’s restless impatience led her to achieve so many monumental things?  After all:

She saved a College.

She turned downtown Brooklyn around — with Metrotech.

She showed New York how Inner-City Catholic Schools could turn the entire City around

She saved parishes.

She celebrated a Bicentennial.

She worked behind the scenes for three Cardinals and two Popes.

She restored a great Cathedral.

Is that why we’re here?  No. That’s just the first sentence of the story.

We’re here because in every one of Helen’s great endeavors, she discovered hidden talent among the people — young and old — whom she mentored.  It’s almost as if tackling all of her great public works was just an excuse to embrace her real calling: her mission to bring undiscovered talent to light for all to finally see. In this mission, all kinds of people began to see things in themselves they never knew they had…  and wouldn’t to this day if not for their guardian angel. Helen is known upstairs as the patron saint of the late bloomer.

Why the hell are we here? Or more precisely, why, for heaven’s sake, are we here?

Here’s the answer:

We’re here tonight to honor the wonderful life and the mind and the spirit of no ordinary angel. We’re here to wonder about the stardust we’re all made of; and how it ended up in the divine randomness of Helen’s mind… so that, even in an age when our leaders divide us to the point where our hearts can’t take it anymore, and when they go so far as to dishonor our valiant young people, this leader Helen —this other kind of angel —will never be satisfied till our hearts are mended and our aggregate goodness is fully deployed.

We’re here tonight because some time ago a devilish little girl began observing us from high above on her fire escape on W. 123rd Street. She found it immensely amusing. We’re here to say this little angel will always remain our lifesaver.

We’re here because we’re all here. We’re here because you’re all here; and so many of you, the disciples of Helen Lowe have gone on to great accomplishment. She herself would say that has been her greatest achievement.