FALLING AWAKE | Friendship is ... Sensitive

How can I begin to answer my eighty-four year old friend’s question about what it means to be “true to my country” lately? 

“Barbara,” I said, “all I know is that last night while looking up at the moon now that felt true to me, but, if I listen to our president speak, I get such an empty feeling.”

It’s easy to catch the disapproval in someone’s eyes. Or maybe it’s just that the world Barbara lives in is not really a place I know very well.

Barbara invited me to speak to her book club in Magnolia nine years ago, and every so often she still invites me to lunch. I think I’ve shaped some of my most interesting writings out of my book club visits. I remember the first stupid thing I said to Barbara was, “Whoa! My entire apartment would fit into your foyer.”

I enjoy our conversations — the honesty, the frank confrontations, because that’s ultimately what we wind up sharing, a good sparring that includes our HUGE differences of opinions, and many other things that make us think the other is crazy sometimes, and even more things that make us fonder of each other. Our cross-generational friendship may hold within it some of the most challenging conversations I’ve ever had, but we’re from completely different backgrounds and I’m still a little intimidated by Barbara.

For instance, every part of me shudders because I know her allegiance to our president is set in stone and there’s no easy way to convey what my patriotic loyalties are, if I have any, which, to Barbara, apparently I do not.

“Barbara? You say you love this country, but it sounds like you flat out distrust most of the newcomers in it, right?”

It’s a tough question. But no tougher than hers to me. Here’s what she said, and how we each tried to hold our tongues after, “that's over-simplifying the issue.”

I rinse off my plate and head out the door for my drive to Port Angeles where I’m to choreograph a piece for a local dance studio.

In January I was teaching in Melbourne where the subject of immigration is also in hot debate. One woman I talked to was from Italy.

“Australia,” she said, “is a good country, but it has too many immigrants now.”

“But you are an immigrant,” I said ... simply.

She just stared at me. And I’d bet my life she was thinking: Yes. But I’m white. And I’m from Europe.

“See?” I thought to myself, “it’s the same hypocrisy everywhere.”

In a café, I met a woman from Iran.

“I’ll do anything to hold on to my freedom,” she said. Now, you may want to cover your ears when I tell you what she does for a living. “I sell my used underwear on-line,” she said. It wasn’t even a big deal for her to tell me. I tried hard not to make a face. And after a few minutes, I stopped trying to figure out what kind of man buys her panties, which, I can only figure, is a gift of middle-age acceptance.

Most people piling off the ferry are headed for home, but I head straight for the Streamliner Diner in Bainbridge where I whip out my laptop because I almost forgot about this straightforward entrepreneur who also said, “When I go to the gym, I wear three pairs at once.” And I realized that within minutes of meeting someone, everything about your idea of independence and immigration can change.  

But, oh, man, I will not share this story with Barbara.

And so, I’m writing it for all the people out there who might see a bit of humor in it.

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