Mary Lou Sanelli
Mary Lou Sanelli

Life is complicated. Personally, politically, there is so much to contend with. It’s all so trying. It keeps us up at night.

And yet, when I look outside and see starbursts of rhododendron and irises standing tall on stems strong as arms, I am filled with hope.

Without hesitating — without thinking, really — I say aloud to the plants, “Thank you.” Sometimes you just have to say the words.

In nature, it takes so little to assure me.

Outside of the natural world, I’m not sure of anything anymore.

Wait, except that last statement.

I am sure of this: After I’ve found my words for the day, I want to see people. Embrace people.

Even the stock clerk at Trader Joe’s who searched the back for another box of olive oil potato chips just because I asked him to. I want to hug him.

Contact makes a huge difference in our lives.

We have mourned its absence on a magnified level. Email, a text, social media, Zoom (especially Zoom) is not the definition of contact. Contact is the state or condition of physical touching.

Oh, I have missed the ease of it.

Of course, getting to say this is why I write. What still surprises me is that someone will likely disagree and then email to say, in anger (more often than not), how mistaken I am.

And I will wonder again: When did we grow so impatient with each other’s opinions? Has it always been like this? My mother used to say, “The division today is nothing compared to the war years.”

I stopped reminding her that we’ve been in — and too briefly out of — “war years” my entire life.

But I have noticed other readers of this column are far more appreciative than before 2020. Perhaps, like me, they relish life on this whole new meaningful level.

In so many ways, we have come to know ourselves better. And our limits. Which we have reached. Over and over. And over.

And still, we hang in there.

I am also sure of this: I prefer less tension in the world, who doesn’t?

So, if it were left to me — of course it is, since I’m the one writing this — if a pandemic had not intervened, I would have started by saying what I had been writing prior to March 2020. Even though, after all we’ve been through, it sounds a little innocent. But I must have been headed toward innocence all along simply by writing about the child I was.

Every now and again, I like to remember that child. The way she hid behind the sectional couch to read the encyclopedias her parents so proudly bought and then never used.

I love the way that girl loved books. And whenever that image comes to mind, I also remember overhearing our priest tell my mother not to let me read too much, as books would “fill my head with ideas.”

And you know what? They did.Books helped me to cope with every swell of emotional stress in their own candid, the-world-is-so-much-bigger-than-you way.

They still do. I read about other people and what concerns them and I think, how bad can the future really be?

One thing remains constant as the tide rising and ebbing, rising and ebbing: The most well-adjusted people I meet read a lot of books.

Sooner or later everything begins to change about my perception of the world. But not this. Readers naturally want to know more about what goes on in the minds of others. They seem to understand that sharing our inner life is what it means to be human, and that this curiosity, this approach to openness, is why we are here.

See, that’s the thing. Books open the mind, and when I snuck behind the couch to read, I was lost, and when I look back at my life, this was the first real fork in my road.

I knew that books would be my future — reading them and later, writing them. It’s just impossible to NOT have an open mind if you read books where we are allowed to enter the mind of another and discover so many different ways to see the world and ourselves within it, and I began to see that this was exactly what my parents were most afraid of. Not to mention that priest.

In the silence of all my reading, so much was being said.

I read somewhere that we should feel cleansed after writing. Cleansed, because so much truth has been let out.

Sometimes, I shake my head at just how much truth.


— Mary Lou Sanelli, author, speaker and master dance teacher, has written numerous non-fiction titles. Her first novel, “The Star Struck Dance Studio of Yucca Springs,” was published in 2019. Her newest collection of essays, “Every Little Thing,” will be released in September. To read more about her and her work visit