Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Alligators, angels and sharks–oh, my!

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 25, 2023

When I tell people that in my younger years I swam in a lake populated with alligators, I get some strange looks. When I add that, on one evening in West Palm Beach, I rushed into the sea at dusk—when sharks usually make their appearance—the expressions turn to total disbelief. I know what they’re thinking—Were you crazy? Were you trying to get killed?  

The answer to the first question is “partly” and to the second “definitely not.” As for the alligators, I lived in a small, dilapidated cabin on a lake near Gainesville, Florida, when I was in graduate school. In the morning, while the sun was waking up, I would walk through the tall grass to the lake.  

As I walked, I heard the splashing sounds of gators, who’d been asleep on the bank and were now plummeting into the water. Back then, I thought nothing of climbing in for a swim. Today you could pay me a million dollars, and I wouldn’t put a toe in that water.  

The shark event happened when I was out with a friend and we were laughing and walking on the shore at dusk. Suddenly I stopped and announced “I’m going for a swim!” He was alarmed and tried to stop me, but I dashed into the water, fully dressed. Fortunately, no sharks were around, so I emerged unscathed.  

I think my guardian angel was working overtime in those days. Like so many people in their 20s, I believed I was invincible. I truly thought I would never die and nothing could harm me. My poor angel probably looked frazzled and somewhat weary, as he followed me on my various adventures.  

When Flannery O’Connor was 8 and was told she had a guardian angel, she pictured him spying on her and didn’t care for the intrusion. In fact, she would fight with him.  

“It was my habit to seclude myself in a locked room every so often and with a fierce (and evil) face, whirl around in a circle with my fists knotted, socking the angel.” She added, “I’m sure I even kicked at him and landed on the floor.”  

In her 20s, someone sent her a holy card with St. Raphael the Archangel on it. She then researched angels and realized her childhood vision of them as spies was way off base. She discovered angels are sent by God to help us grow in grace and to protect us.    

I had quite a different take on angels when I was in high school. I affectionately named my guardian angel “Tony” and wrote numerous letters to him that became diaries. “Dear Tony,” I would write and unleash the secrets of my heart.  

By the time I was in my 20s, I no longer believed in Tony, but fortunately he didn’t give up on me. On one vacation trip from Florida to California, my boyfriend and I attempted to cross the border into Mexico to do some sightseeing.  

The border patrolmen searched our car and unearthed a small amount of an illegal plant, and proceeded to arrest us. I wept all night in that crowded jail cell, while envisioning a long sentence. Evidently Tony was working overtime because the next morning the judge allowed my boyfriend and myself to go free. I can assure you that was the last time I broke the law.  

With the passage of years, many folks take fewer risks, and I’m certainly no exception. Sometimes I picture Tony sighing with relief because his job is much easier these days. After all, he no longer has to rescue me from the perils of prison, nor does he have to fend off sharks and alligators.  

Lorraine has written “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” plus church mysteries, “Death in the Choir,” “Death of a Liturgist” and “Death Dons a Mask.” Artwork (St. Michael the Archangel) is by her late husband, Jef. Her email is