Sanelli
Sanelli

This is what heaven is to me: I look up. There is blue sky.

And because it is heaven, there’s no rainfall predicted for two whole days!

Since I’m about to launch my latest book, and haven’t started my next, I’m in-between. My friend Steph said I look relaxed, but the outside of someone is often so different from their inside.

To ease my nerves, I’ve decided to meet my friend Bob for coffee; something I seldom do. He loves to meet for coffee, but it isn’t like this for me. I think about it, but the part of me who prefers spending mornings at home in her nightie generally wins out.

But Bob is someone I can unwind with. He treats me to his favorite “blended” and, with two creamy caffeinated equivalents of dessert, we head down to the Water Taxi that will whisk us over to Alki Beach.

I believe that there are everyday events that we sense are enlightening even if we don’t yet know what they are about to teach us.

Just that they will.

This is what happens when I spot the little girl wearing a shayla — hair, neck, and shoulders covered — sitting crossed-legged with her family (men, women, numerous children) on a huge woven mat under a wide blue tarp secured by the weight of halved Clorox bottles filled with sand.

Between them, a feast is spread in large tinfoil containers. The food smells so good, Bob and I spend a long moment inhaling its tang.

“Do you think they could be our new best friends?” Bob says.

It occurs to me that there are scores of 20— and 30-somethings from all over the world moving to Belltown to work at Amazon, yet I rarely see an entire family together.

When I say as much to Bob, he changes the subject. Not dismissively; it’s just that one mention of the word “Amazon” can send him into a tailspin.

“Doesn’t it strike you as a con to see Bezos’ empire rise from the depths of Sixth Avenue after he convinced all the independents that no one needs a brick-and-mortar presence? And now they are the biggest brick-and-mortar presence?”

Bob’s insights are some of my favorite understandings of this city. Like my trusty flat iron, I rely on them to set things straight. To tease, I say, “Modern times, paging Bob.”

“Sorry,” he said, and then quickly returned to what I’d said about families. “Whole families arrive here together, but they tend to live south. An economic wall divides Seattle, north from south. Take the light rail to the airport if you don’t believe me.”

“It’s always been this way,” I say. “The high cost of living defining what neighborhood we live in.”

“I think it’s more about ethnicity.”

He’s right.

Growing up in New York taught me the importance of the word neighborhood. How people want to live around their own, no matter how often we throw the word integration around.

Even so, I find the division unsettling. Seattle is supposed to be better than this. We can’t keep dividing up the world. It’s all one big mess.

Under the tarp, the men throw arms around each other easily and often. Everyone is singing. I find their behavior hypnotically tender and moving. What language are they speaking? Have they found their way here from Africa by way of Europe? I’m staring now, so when one of the men smiles at me, I quickly turn my head away.

I look around.

Most others sit separately staring at their phones. No one is singing, not much laughter. Even the volleyball game is intense.

Watching the girl and her mother eat something I don’t recognize, expertly with their hands, brings a shudder of nostalgia to the surface.

The reason?

My own mother had a stroke from which she never recovered. She lived for another year, yet she did not. It’s amazing how quickly we can lose ourselves.

I try my hardest not to let sadness sweep in, but it’s too late. I’m too near the edge.

Uh oh, I think: here it comes.

And it’s not much help that I am suddenly thinking about one particularly sensitive nurse who squeezed my shoulders and coaxed me gently away from my mother’s bedside, saying, “how nice a walk outside would be.”

That squeeze kept me sane.

Small kindnesses: where would any of us be without them?

We gather up our things and Bob and I walk toward the Water Taxi, but before we turn to go, I see that the girl’s dark purple head scarf has fallen to her shoulders but no one in her family seems to mind.

I am really glad to see her whole face. When she shakes her hair free, the natural ease of that simple gesture touched me just enough to keep my tears down.

What I wanted from the day was respite.

What I got was so much more.

Mary Lou Sanelli will share her new novel, “The Star Struck Dance Studio of Yucca Springs,” at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park at 6 p.m. Oct. 12 and Eagle Harbor Book Company at 3 p.m. on Oct. 20. All readings will open with local dancers. More at marylousanelli.com.