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Starbright STELLA

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

I have lived in the same condo for several decades. The other tenants are mostly young people in their twenties and thirties. But some time ago, a five-year-old child who was starting kindergarten moved into my building. Her name was Stella and she became a most important star in my domestic universe. Whenever she passed my first-floor office window on her way to school, Stella would smile and wave to me. The good morning quality of my day began with that wave and the bountiful good feelings that filled the space between us.

We became dear friends when Stella’s mother, Tracey, needed to go to a meeting and asked if she could drop Stella off for an hour. I was happy to entertain the child, but, as it turned out, Stella entertained me. Our conversation proved surprisingly compelling. Most recently from Thailand, already an ardent feminist, she had much to say. Stella’s father was a pilot, her mother a retired flight attendant, and Stella had been around the world several times. She had studied Frida Kahlo’s artwork in various museums and informed me she was planning to become an artist like Frida.

I have always believed that it is critical to look for whatever one might love to do in life-- and do it. My mother made me feel that everyone was born with some special capacity that was bound to bring them joy. I think I was lucky. I found mine repeatedly, first in books and reading, then in raising two children, then in studying and living with a Roma tribe, and, eventually, in writing. Little Stella also seemed keenly aware of the need to find the career or potential problem, the challenging opportunity that she might love. She and I had this belief about human potential in common.

During the years that Stella was growing up, I could hardly wait for Halloween to see how Stella’s search was going. She would appear at my door in quick-mix portrayals, most often dressed as Frida Kahlo, a unibrow across her forehead. But once – she was not yet in her teens -- she was the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Once she was an adorable Amelia Earhart in full flying regalia. I had to ask who she was when she posed as Picasso’s painting of his lover Dora Marr and again, when she wearing a yellow and black wig with Pop Art dots all over her face.

Stella never lacked for opinions and when she started high school, she angrily objected to the number of tests, day after day of tests. What was the point, she asked, of always studying for tests, rather than reading and learning about the subjects that compel you? Her family found a Seattle High School that didn’t feature tests. The first day at her new school, Nova, Stella was enlisted to teach a class. She spoke about the Cold War, a subject so complex that it required an entire semester.

This year Stella finished high school and started college. A truly original thinker, she applied for and was accepted at nearly twenty of her favorite schools. She settled for The New School in Manhattan. She loves New York because there is so much to do and discover there. I felt the same when I was her age. But now I am 95, not too mobile, and quite content with life in unchallenging Seattle.

A few years back Stella read something I wrote and responded with an appreciative thank you. She said that what she had always liked about me was my ability to see her as a person, her equal, her fellow writer, artist, and friend. . . despite being eight decades her senior. She is hoping to live as long as I have, and to grow old with what she sees as my grace and enthusiastic fervor. When she is ancient like me, she plans to reread all my essays and books and to relive and rejoice in our unusual relationship. She is also hoping to have a young girl, much like she has been to me, who will be her associate and author friend.

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