I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death
This touching book provides a glimpse into the life of the author, Maggie O’Farrell. More to the point, she takes us on a tour of the many times that she estimates she came very close to losing that life. The author chronicles the 17 times over the course of her life, from childhood to adulthood, when she believes she cheated death in a series of, sometimes, freaky, sometimes terrifying, sometimes barely noticeable, brushes with the grim reaper. The near misses are categorized by body system (lungs, neck, cranium, etc.) She tells of a time when she believes she came very close to being raped and killed, and another couple times when she nearly drowned. The stories, a chapter for each of the 17 experiences, are told with a variety of points of view and writing styles, presumably to vary the text and make it more interesting. I don’t think this is necessary, as O’Farrell’s writing is so descriptive and metered as to come close to crossing over from prose to poetry. The way that she describes the experiences, the thoughts that run through her mind when she realizes that this is another brush with death, her hopes that it is indeed only another brush, is heart wrenching and gripping even though we know she must survive to write this book.
In a way she is grieving for her former selves that went through each experience never to be the seen or felt again. At first, the narration of these events seems amazing, but the author points out that many of us have brushes with death that we either discount, forget about, or never notice. For instance, the car that almost, but does not, hit us while we cross the street; or the time we swim a little too far from shore and there is no riptide at the moment when we head nervously back to the empty beach.
I found this book compelling because I have also had many close calls with death, some in hospitals, and I occasionally stop to think about how these close calls affected my outlook on life. This book, though about close calls with death, is a testament to a life lived as fully as possible with a sense of adventure and a determination to keep gaining through life threatening challenges. The author describes the many hardships that she has conquered or continues to battle, including the precarious health of her own daughter. This beautifully written reflection caused me to look back on my own life and take stock. It helps to cast an eye over the shoulder of one’s life once in a while and see how much one has overcome and also how often chance has made the difference between the final chapter and a continuation.