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Daily Bread

It’s a ceremony. That moment when the rising sun waves hello and the moon waves goodbye and the stars wink back, taking their turn to sleep. The sky lightens into a soft morning, stretching its arms to touch the treetops, then the streams, then the blades of grass, finally stopping on flower petals and tickling them awake. Funny that something like this goes so well with black coffee.

It’s a ceremony of daily bread.

You and I aren’t etching in stone through these little lives. We’re drawing with chalk. We cannot stop the rain from coming, drizzling then pouring. We cannot prevent the world with all its sneakers and high heels from skidding across our markings. I think there must be times when each of us would rather be holding something other than chalk. And yet chalk is all we have. Thank goodness for colors to choose from.

Sometimes, without our permission of course, a morning seems as if the hello of the sun and the goodbye of the moon is just for me. The light that touches my skin is almost drinkable. On these mornings, a holiness comes upon us and in us. We tap dance across all those chalk drawings, half washed by rain, clinking and clacking to the music of whichever street we’ve made our canvas. And just like that, we join the ceremony. The ceremony called Daily Bread.

Some people hold you with their eyes longer and tighter than they do with their grip.

That’s how Jim is. He glances over my shoulder, examining my mousy handwriting from weathered eyes, “My, you do write awfully small,” he laughs, sipping a final slurp of hot coffee. I tell him I’m pretty long-winded, so the smaller I write, the more I can say. Jim gushes about his ballpoint pen collection, trusting me with what he treasures. He turns to leave; he pats me on the shoulder with one hand, the other clutching a read newspaper, complete with a solved crossword puzzle no doubt. “How bout’ I search my collection and find the finest tipped pen I have?” Something in me understands that a pen is the sweetest gift Jim knows how to give, and I find myself saying, nearly aloud, and only in a whisper, “Why yes—this is another way God can look, isn’t it?”

He knows the ceremony. The ceremony called Daily Bread.

Catherine is almost the same. I wish the two of them could love each other. She hovers over her walker, her back hunched, her chin up; the brightness in her eyes matches the soft light of this morning. Provence gives her bread, calling her by name. A Village of Flowers passes along blooms whose days are running short. They know Catherine hasn’t given up on them just yet. Fido serves her a mug of hot coffee, and though her hand shakes, she lowers it to the table. Sometimes another stranger sits at that table and she smiles and asks, “Would you mind if I sit with you?” She refers to my boyfriend as ‘Thor’, and reminds that if I don’t keep him close, she’ll snatch him right away. “Betsy, the times are a changin’,” she says to me, peering up from her new IPAD. “And I’m gonna change with em’. Every now and then, you just gotta go with the times.”

She knows the ceremony. The ceremony called Daily Bread.

I met two little girls passing Jackson’s the other afternoon—sisters, with bows in their hair and skips in their steps. They perched themselves atop concrete pillars, waiting for their mama to finish lunch with a friend. “Do you have anywhere to be?” the oldest asks, interrupting a time crunch. “Well no, I guess I don’t.” “Can you talk to us then?”

And just like that, I was invited into their tiny worlds, adventures of days spent with pet ducks, especially their favorite named ‘Mama Duck.’ They only liked wearing dresses, and they invited me to their hotel to play in the elevators. Each story they told was told together, because each story was a shared story.

They know the ceremony. The ceremony called Daily Bread.

And Rosie, Rosie who walks down the street from Morningside on most nice evenings. She stops me on my way to Bongo: “Isn’t this just the most wonderful way to end the day?” she smiles. And I can tell she’s had one of those evenings like one of my mornings—when the goodbye of the sun and the hello of the moon is meant just for her. “Yes, yes it is. There’s no better way to end today.”

She holds my hand for the remainder of our talk, describing her walks to get away a bit. We make plans to get away together.

She knows the ceremony. The ceremony called Daily Bread.

All of them strangers. Listen to that word. Stranger. Strange to us. We’re all strangers to someone.

I want to know it, too, the ceremony called Daily Bread. I want my soul be as old and as wise as Jim and Catherine and Rosie, but still as much of a little girl as the sisters who had a pet ‘Mama Duck.” I want to tap dance across all those chalk markings and redraw dreams that need to be redrawn. I want to be unafraid to shed skin, and I want to do it without being stubborn. I want to taste, touch, and listen to this life through all its chapels and parades.

 A handful of months ago, I mounted a stage wearing a silly looking hat. I didn’t remember facts. I didn’t recall tests nor grades nor classes, both miserable and splendid. I thought of my soul. I knew my soul, not fully, but certainly better than I did when I arrived. Yes, it was my soul that floated across that stage, stirring beneath my skin, tickling it, reminding that the two are working together, body and soul. They’ve always been working together. It’s just taken me this long to learn. To keep learning this partnership—this companionship between soul and body, I must leave.

A friend once told me that it’s hard to leave Egypt. When Egypt is so beautiful, it’s hard to leave. I’m finding this to be true.

But I’m also finding that the path unbeaten, the path I could never have guessed, flourishes with wildflowers; they tower up to my forehead. I can see them from here—just there—I can smell them, too. Not planted by human hands, just there, just them, pretending to be nothing else but who they are.

They know the ceremony. The ceremony called Daily Bread.

Written by: Betsy Coughlin


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