90. a small, good thing. / by Anna Li


 Pan du Coco

Pan du Coco

There's this Raymond Carver story that I love called, "A Small, Good Thing." Though you should read the whole thing, I will give you a brief synopsis. A mom and a dad lose their son, and by a turn of bizarre circumstances, they tell an unsuspecting baker all about the tragic accident. He has nothing to offer them except hot rolls. "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this," he says. The story ends with one of the simplest, yet most complicated scenes I've read in fiction: this ecclectic group of strangers, sitting together in the bakery at midnight, eating rolls as an odd communion service.

Today marks my halfway point. It is easy for me to get overwhelmed. If I think about all that stands between me and December--the vast mounds of papers and research left--I become lost in this immense, looming shadow. I am daily faced with questions about power and privilege that have no conclusions, but a million filigreed roots. When I think about the looseness of this whole world, I am swallowed up by all that is unknown. 

But when I number the small, good things, it feels possible. I count the small, good things from today. One: buying paint and paintbrushes at a bookstore, an action that feels natural and familiar to me, which are feelings I never have here. Two: striking up a conversation with a woman on the jeepney on the way home. She finds out that I, too, am a Christian. She puts her hand and my knee and smiles. "You are my sister," she says to me over and over again. "You are my sister." Three: buying Pan du Coco from a baker that always remembers my name, and having extra to give away. "Piyan mo tinapay?" I ask the storeowner next to me. "Do you want bread?" She smiles at my accent, and nods her head. 

I can become undone. I can let myself be pulled into the boundless future and its wide orbit. But today I choose to count the small, good things that graft me to this place. It is my own strange communion, sharing a loaf of Pan du Coco with a woman I barely know or understand, standing in the shade of her tin roof to keep from the jungle heat that rises from wet soil. But it is a small, good thing in times like these. And it makes everything--somehow, someway--feel possible.