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The story "Once Upon a Time" tells the tale of a mother, father, son, and grandmother blessed with every material possession they could wish for, as well as family members that cares for each other.
When the grandmother warns of dangerous threats from burglars and criminals outside, the father and mother take steps to prevent those dangers from gaining access into their home—even though they are never actually threatened.
As time passes, alarms are installed, walls are raised, and bars are placed on windows. The family loses sight of what they have, and become prisoners of their fears. The atmosphere of terror that descends upon them obliterates the pleasure they had once enjoyed in their lives before they became trapped by their worries. Their perceptions, rather than reality, have shaped the way they see and interact with the world.
In "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," the reader meets Pelayo who one day finds an old man in his courtyard. The man is unable to move because of his large wings.
A neighbor advises Pelayo to kill the "angel," but Pelayo cannot do so. He locks the man up, expecting to set him free on a raft. However, before he can do this, people descend upon their house to get a look at the angel. They are not impressed by what they see. Even though the town accepts that he must be an angel, he is old and ugly, of no value. Even the priest says that the old man doesn't live up to the church's expectations of an angel.
As the story continues, Pelayo and his wife have become wealthy from the money others have paid in order to see "the angel," so they build a beautiful new house. They have changed, with little time now for the old man. He is an annoyance and they would happily see him gone.
The common theme I see in these stories is that people often lose sight of the truly wonderful things that sit before them because they do not clearly see what is really there; imaginations influence perception, and they end up losing opportunities because they can only see what they expect to see, not necessarily what is there.
In "Once Upon a Time," the family thinks they must hide themselves behind walls. They lose the joy they once had in each other's company. Their fears control their lives: all they can see outside is what they expect to see, not what is actually there.
In "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," Pelayo, his wife, and the townspeople convince themselves that the old man is of no importance. They cannot find a way to look beyond what they see, to behold an angel—regardless of his appearance. Expecting someone grander, perhaps, their expectations control their actions.
One day, the old man flies off. Pelayo and his wife lose their chance to visit with an angel, to entertain a heavenly being because their preconceptions blinded them to what was truly important: to see the truth before them and to value others (the old man) based on substance, not on appearance.
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