I MET AN ANGEL on Greenmount Avenue. I swear to God. I walked up to him yesterday morning around 10 o'clock in a community garden near Chase Street. He was spreading compost at the time.
Of course, I didn't know he was an angel. Not at first. Nothing about him said "angel."
He did not have wings, for instance. He did not look cherubic. He did not look like Michael Landon. He did not look like Della Reese. He did not go by the name of Clarence. He did not wear gauzy white.
In fact, he wore black - a black yarmulke, a long black cassock and shiny black shoes. He appeared to be in his mid- to late 50s; he had long sideburns in the Hasidic style. He wore a gold ring imprinted with a Hebrew symbol and the letters "A" and "M." He struck me as half priest-half rabbi. He smoked a cigarette through a plastic holder.
There was a colorful, embroidered patch on his breast. Upon closer inspection, the patch appeared to be a crest of ecumenical symbolism: on one half was the image of a church, on the other a synagogue. Two swords, one red and one brown, crisscrossed beneath the crest.
How did I know I was in the company of an angel?
He told me so.
"I took possession of this body in 1975," he said.
"Where were you prior to that?" he was asked.
"In the atmosphere."
Once upon a time, there was a man named Paul Carrollton Clark, he explained. But 23 years ago, Paul Carrollton Clark was replaced by this angel.
The angel Am.
Am is his last name.
Am is his first name.
He's in the phone book as Am Am.
The full name is actually Am Michael Am. ("I've got the papers to prove it.")
Am also could be the name of a religion because, based on what I heard yesterday morning - assuming I understood correctly - Am is a state of grace. Self-realization and identity are tied up in what Am Michael Am believes. He believes in following the inspiration of the Almighty to become what we are destined to become in life, even if it means becoming an angel. ("He is the all, the everything," Am Michael Am said. "He is the past, the present and the future. I am because of Him.")
He subscribes to the theology of Am-7 - that is, the living of life according to the Book of Genesis, organizing one's activities based on the seven days of creation. Yesterday, for instance, was the third day of the week, Am Michael Am reminded me. "That's the day of the earth," he said. "That's why I'm working in the garden."
And it's not Am Michael Am's garden. Let's get that straight.
"It's God's garden. I just tend it for him."
He keeps a Bible, open to Genesis and the passage about the Garden of Eden, in a large pickle jar. He keeps the jar on a cinder-block ledge along the western wall of a rowhouse that fronts East Chase.
The Am-7 garden, once a vacant lot, was rich with dark compost. In this balmy December, the roses and marigolds were in bloom. Tomatoes were still ripening on the vine. Fire Department sirens wailed. Workers hammered away at nearby rowhouses. Traffic growled up and down Greenmount. The Angel Am worked blissfully in the garden, a bright corner on a dreary morning in Baltimore.
An angel is a messenger, and though much of the Angel Am's message could not be understood, some pieces of it could. I appreciated, for instance, the cross-religious symbolism of his clothing and the ecumenical nature of his rhetoric. It revealed a kind of cheerful openness about theological matters and a winking toleration for organized religion. Developing his own brand of belief, Am Michael Am drew as much from the Old Testament as the New. His explanations seemed to be a distillation of Judaic and Christian ideas. It was sometimes wildly confusing and mind-numbing, at other times perfectly simple and profound.
Here's what I walked away with: If you know yourself, then you can be happy with yourself. And if you are happy with yourself, you can live life to the fullest. Live life to the fullest, and you serve God.
Or something like that.
I am what I am.
And Am is what Am is, happily toiling in God's garden.
Pub Date: 12/09/98