An Angel stood before God and was persistant in her request that she be assigned a challenge that would allow her to achieve her wings, for an angel's wings are not just given, they are earned. God, on this particular day, was busy in the extreme. There were uncountable prayers that needed to be answered, and awaiting His attention were more wars, famines, and other catastrophes than was ordinary in the vastness of His universe. God loved the persistant Angel, as he loves all his angels, but so distracting did she become that He decided it to be in the best interest of all His creation that she be kept busy by indeed giving her the challenge she desired. The challenge He gave her was one He considered to be the most difficult He'd ever given to any angel: the Angel was to go to Earth and search out and bring back to Him the single most precious thing she could find there.
Delighted to at last have the chance to earn her wings, off the Angel went. She searched among the jewels of kings and queens, searched through the treasure of dead emperors and pharohs that lay in tombs yet to be discovered by archaeologists, searched through all the galleries and museums where art, the glory of man, was collected. As her search took her far and wide, she came to understand the difficulty of her challenge, for she was unable to find that one thing worthy to be called the most precious thing of all. So hard and long did she search that she at last took time to rest in a garden, a garden where fall was beginning to burnish leaves into reds and golds. There she happened to hear a conversation between a White Hummingbird and a Red Rose.
"But it's not winter I fear," said the White Hummingbird, his delicate wings a blurr. "It's the thought of being away from you that torments me so."
"But I've given you my heart to keep," answered the Red Rose, "so that wherever you go, my heart will be there too. Now please, my dearest White Hummingbird, you must leave me, for the gardener will soon come and cover me with straw to protect me from the cold."
"I will not leave you."
"If I promise to dream the winter away dreaming only of us together again in the spring, will it convince you to fly south and there be safe from the cold?"
"Your promise is sweet," said the White Hummingbird, the dazzling sheen of his feathers making him so very handsome. "But no matter the danger to me, I intend to stay by your side."
"Winter gives no mercy to hummingbirds."
"Don't you understand?" the White Hummingbird said with all the love he felt for the Red Rose sounding in his voice. "To brave the winter here with you is my only chance to live, for to leave you only assures me a death by broken heart."
The Angel was drawn to watch this drama play out, and soon cold winds were upon the garden. The cold withered the Red Rose, put ugly brown spots on her petals, but that she was no longer beautiful meant nothing to the White Hummingbird. He still refused to leave her. Then came the gardener with the straw, and even with the Red Rose warm and safe beneath this blanket, the White Hummingbird still would not leave. The Angel saw in the days that followed that what the Red Rose had said was true, that winter gives no mercy to hummingbirds. The White Hummingbird suffered in ways terrible to behold. His flesh disappeared until his bones were knobs beneath his feathers, and a haze dulled his once sparkling eyes. One night in the late days of November, there came a storm of sleet, and with the first morning rays of a cold distant sun, the Angel saw that the White Hummingbird was dead. He lay covered with ice atop the straw beneath which the Red Rose slept.
The Angel tenderly cupped the White Hummingbird in both her hands, and returned to heaven. Once there, the Angel laid the White Hummingbird before the feet of God.
"My Lord, I have searched the Earth over, and it is this hummingbird that is the most precious thing to be found there. I pray to you, Lord, to please do something for this sweet bird, for the story of his love for a rose is the saddest I know."
And God said, "My Angel, what you ask of me is but my way and is already done."
With this the White Hummingbird stirred with new life, and the very first thing he saw was that which he loved most. Because the years are but a sigh in the scheme of God's eternity, the Red Rose, too, had arrived in the garden of heaven, and in all her beauty was waiting for her love. The joy the White Hummingbird and the Red Rose now shared would last until forever.
And God asked, "What have you learned from this, my Angel?"
There was not the slightest hesitation when the Angel answered, "That in my Lord's kingdom, all stories, no matter how sad they might seem, will have a happy ending."
God was greatly pleased. "You have accomplished your challenge and learned you lesson well. And on this day, my Angel, you have earned your wings."
(fiction, and thank you, Oscar.)