It is a quarter of five on this very chilly autumn day, and I am writing this while enjoying a Starbucks venti mocha, seated comfortably on a brand new coffee-colored sofa. This particular Starbucks kiosk is located in the recently renovated Safeway grocery store at the corner of Martin Luther King Avenue and Othello Street in the Rainier Valley of southeast Seattle.
I am dressed appropriately for the evening, warm in my black sweater with the white artificial fur collar. My long-sleeved Hawaiian Fire shirt, a gift from my son, Richie, who lives in Honolulu, overtly hints at my ethnicity.
The Rainier Valley has a large black and Asian population. With the introduction of a Sound Transit Link light rail and attractive pastel-colored townhouses, the area is gradually undergoing a gentrification as droves of upper middle class white Seattleites, disgruntled with the traffic jams, sirens, increasingly expensive urban parking, and burgeoning homeless population migrate to this area.
Having lived in this community for the last year and a half, I have come to love and appreciate the ebb and flow of its heartbeat. Like me, it struggles with atrial fibrillation. This traditionally high crime area has slowed down somewhat, but every now and then, there is a major hiccup. Fairly or unfairly, depending on one's perspective and blogging persuasion, the area is still generally perceived by Washingtonians as the least ideal place to live. On a weekly basis, one still reads or hears about the latest shooting, stabbing, or robbery. But even with the mostly gang-related and domestic violence incidents, from an inside looking out point of view, there has been a noticeable settling from the historical unease and restlessness that once pervaded this valley like a dense fog that refuses to move on.
I like to think of it as an inevitable rite of passage...a weariness, as it were, of all that is funky and irrational and just plain stupid. It's a phenomenon not unlike the similar experience of the old cons in prison--the penal dinosaurs, as they're referred to with great deference from the general population as well as prison staff. You hear the legends and the layer upon layer of exaggerated feats of daring, but you miss in the here and now the overwhelming exhaustion that overcomes those who, for decades, chose to live against society's grain. If it's true that the universe will continue to bring back the same lesson until one finally gets it, then we're talking about a very patient universe and a very stubborn and/or ignorant recipient. Until one day when that person wakes up and realizes just how tired he is of resisting...and finds some comfort in the relief of letting go and simply being.
A parallel maturing experience is going on in the Rainier Valley. As a private citizen, I feel safer. As a writer, I am passionate about observing firsthand and recording my observations. As a resident, I am very proud of my neighbors and their collective efforts to ensure that this valley is all about reinforcing the true and compassionate ideals of family and home.
It's now a quarter of six, and with this past Sunday's advent of daylight savings time accentuating the effect, it is already very dark outside. I have about a three-quarters of a mile walk back to the house, but a year and a half after having moved into this neighborhood, I walk with greater confidence that I will arrive home safely.
The universe, you see, has more final exams in store for me.