I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am. I am. I am.
Beside me, Jody’s cheeks bloomed like gold apples, and here and there in the little congregation I recognized other faces of other girls from college and my home town who had known Joan. DeeDee and Nurse Kennedy bent their kerchiefed heads in a front pew.
Then, behind the coffin and the flowers and the face of the minister and the faces of the mourners, I saw the rolling lawns of our town cemetery, knee-deep in snow now, with the tombstones rising out of it like smokeless chimneys.
There would be a black, six-foot-deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow, and the peculiar, yellowish soil of our locality seal the wound in the whiteness, and yet another snowfall erase the traces of newness in Joan’s grave.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.
I am, I am, I am.
Change and Continuity: I am, I am, I am, I am…
When I was in my 20’s I took up commercial baking. The hours were a shock to my system. I was used to getting up about 7:00 am at the earliest. Suddenly, I was in bed by 8:00 pm when my friends were still downstairs visiting, and up and out the door to the first run of the bus by about 4:00 am, in the dark, when everyone I knew was still sleeping – and that was the late shift.
The city was almost dead quiet at that hour, and I was used to being around people. It was damp and cold and lonely, until I got to the shop where the kitchen would have been hot and bustling since midnight. For the first few months I felt like I was walking into a room full of aliens who wore baker’s whites.
Getting out the door that early was surreal, until the day I noticed a long, faded line of once-bold graffiti, spray painted on a plywood wall between the sidewalk and a construction zone: “I leaned back and listened to the brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am, I am,” with “I am” repeated down to the end of the block.
At first, I thought I’d dreamed it. Then, with every commute I looked for it and re-read it, day after day, repeating it like a mantra until long after the wall came down.
How simple! “I am,” like a heartbeat, forever, just because I am here and breathing.
What a gift.
I took it and made it my own.
Who’d have thought that a book, crowned with suicide and misquoted in graffiti, would one day help to power someone like me, on their way to becoming a dessert chef?