FALLING AWAKE | It was an early evening on a clear September night

The moon rose over a crystal blue lake.

No nightfall could be more expressing of why, the first time I visited Lake Crescent, when I was twenty-one, I stayed for three months, living about as far west as one can travel in this country without quite leaving it. I swam in the lake, bathed in it, fell in love with my husband in a tiny cabin on its south shore.

And I came to know, or thought I did, why the first recorded interpretation of the Holy Spirit was not man-like in nature, but “spiritual” as the word applies to water, the giver of life.

I remember reading this and feeling that at last I’d found a faith that made sense to me: We begin in water. Water is holy.

I’m a believer.

But the lake is not my only story here.

I want to write about Anna.

Also about Womenfest: an annual celebration where women from all over the state of Washington gather in a place called Camp David (I wish they’d rename it), an outdoor camp on the lake’s northwest shore.

And what is so completely true about this gathering is that the women who attend have careers and kids and marriages and divorces. In other words, we’ve learned how hard we can make things when we don’t trust ourselves more.

I was invited to give a reading.

Then something bad happened.

I began by telling the audience that a writer doesn’t write in order to convince anyone of anything, but to figure out how we feel. “Writing is like being given soil to grow in, “ I said.

Then I shared an Op-Ed I wrote way back in April, 2003 (2003! How long we’ve been in the Middle East) that ended: “If a woman suffers because her brother, husband, or son might come home prone in a plastic bag, I support her and politics be damned. That’s enough certainty to keep me sane through all this.”

The room went silent, a good silent, full of nods.

Then, like an arrow, a woman shot from the room.

Even if I’ve gotten better over the years at not taking things personally, I’d still be lying if I said the speed of the woman’s exit didn’t hurt my feelings a little. Not only did everyone look in her direction as she flew out, but this kind of interruption means I have to work doubly hard to win my audience back. It can make you lose courage if you’re not careful.

And if your courage fails, believe me, it shows.

I learned the woman’s name was Anna and that she lives in Port Angeles, where a lot of boys still grow up to view the military as a shot at something more; a life adventure.

An hour later Anna and I sat on either side of a picnic table. “I lost a nephew in Iraq,” she said. “My son came home disabled. I hardly know him now he’s so medicated.”

I went still inside.

In Anna’s presence, I could feel how, before our kids enlist, they are our sons and daughters, intact, with next-door lives. They are rolling down the sidewalk on a skateboard. Anna made me face these wars again.

I’ve grown too used to war like everyone else, numb.

Now I’m angry again. And that’s good!

Eventually, we laughed about something or other, and then we hugged each other goodbye.

The drive out of Port Angeles was eerie. I didn’t think I believed in such things, but I have to tell you, everything I saw felt like a reminder of what Anna hears.

A wisp of smoke rose over town and hovered.

It was only wood smoke, but I imagined the cloud as a soldier returning home to say: Hey, there’s Civic Field where we used to play baseball! Remember? And the elementary school; it hasn’t changed. And there’s my skateboard overturned on the lawn.

I forgot to put it away before I left, Mom, sorry.

MARY LOU SANELLI is a poet, speaker and author of nonfiction who lives in Belltown. Her collection of essays, “A Woman Writing,” is available from Aequitas Books. She can be reached at www.marylousanelli.com.