Mary Lou Sanelli
Mary Lou Sanelli

I’ve never been the kind of person who can wait to open a gift that arrives early, certainly not a Little Christmas gift.

More commonly known to the rest of the world as the Feast of the Epiphany, Little Christmas falls on Jan. 6, and in my childhood home it was the official end of the holiday season. Likely why it brought relief to my mother’s eyes.

Eyes speak. And parents never know which look is going to be the one their kids will remember forever.

We always saved our smallest-sized gift to open on Little Christmas. After the oohing and aahing, the tree came down — faster if we could get dad to help.

Last week, when my Little Christmas gift arrived in the mail, it was like having our family ritual all over again. I couldn’t wait to open it. I sat down on the floor and tore into the tiny box.

Earrings! My friend Lena knows who I am.

I didn’t know what the greenish-blue stone was at first, but I learned that aquamarine, in ancient lore, is believed to be the treasure of mermaids.

I love that. No one is more of a mermaid than me, and I am fairly confident this is why she chose the stone. Before COVID, I joined a health club with a pool. I swam every day, no matter how cold. No matter how rainy. Lena thought I was crazy and I was. I was crazy for swimming.

I can’t wait to swim again. In the water, my heart is light.

In the water, I am able to convince myself that, say, criticism does not dwarf a compliment, things of that nature.

If I stay in long enough, I am (nearly) able to forgive everyone and everything that has ever hurt me. Exactly how and why this happens hasn’t been fully explained to me, but that’s fine. Because it doesn’t last. Once I towel off, all resentments resume to normal.

I take a moment to try on the earrings and pull my hair back in a ponytail to show them off. They are earrings you would wear to, hmm, let’s see … a Feast of the Epiphany!

Or, wait, I know. Out for an Emerald City Smoothie.

My friend Lena has always had the gift of timing. This was true even when we shared a room in college. She was the one who remembered to whip out the Visine when we had to sneak by our dorm monitor past curfew. And when, as a freshman, I had the flu, it was Lena who made me tea. The strongest sensation I remember isn’t how sick I was, or even the fear I had because it was the first week of a new semester, but the safety I felt under Lena’s care.

What stays with us is the care we receive when we need it the most. When we are young, we assume there will be so many of these totally supportive moments, too many to recall. Until we realize that there aren’t so many, really. And how important it is to relish each and every one.

I tried to be better at relishing last year, but it was such an exhausting year. Any improvement took longer than expected. Not biblically long. But a while.

So, even if I wasn’t fully conscious of any real headway — in the form of taking enough time to properly relish — I knew I felt something finer, even if I didn’t have the words for it yet.

Until I did.

And they are not even close to original. I’ve heard them all my life. But they are knowing. Oh, they are knowing: Live in the moment. Savor the moment.


— Mary Lou Sanelli, author, speaker and dance teacher, lives in Belltown. For more information about her and her work, visit