This summer I have been thinking about the frailty of human life. I had an experience on vacation though that caused me to think about it in a somewhat different way.
My husband and I took a trip to the Northwest. It was mostly about cities and eating. We had a fantastic time exploring a part of this country and Canada that we had never seen before. Then, for one day, we took a break from city exploring and drove north of Seattle, where we boarded a Washington State ferry and travelled across the Puget Sound to Whidbey Island.
The place was serene. Locals know about it for sure. And I’m sure people in the Northwest know about it. But it is less likely that you’ll meet many people in the New York Metropolitan area who have been to Langley, Washington on Whidbey Island. I imagine it gets crowded during the weekend, or what passes for crowded in that part of the world. But on a Wednesday in July the place was practically deserted.
I had a typical East Coast reaction to the ferry before we actually got to the town where we boarded. I called two days ahead to find out if we really could just drive our car up to the ferry and board. The concept was so alien to me having travelled to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket over the years, knowing that if you hadn’t booked vehicle passage by the early spring, there was little chance your car was making it to either of those two islands. And here we were, able to just randomly drive our rental car onto a ferry and then onto this beautiful island. It was unbelievable. But we did it.
We stayed in a rustic and tranquil inn. It was just what you would have wanted on a quiet island in the middle of the Northwest. For whatever reason, I did no research about the place. It had been suggested to me, I liked the idea of it, and it fit into my itinerary. So we booked it. We were so glad that we did. We walked around Langley soaking up the local charm and had a spectacular meal that evening.
The next morning we had breakfast at the Inn’s restaurant, which four nights a week is heralded as the best restaurant in the area, but hadn’t been open the night we were on the island. Other guests were milling about, having conversations among themselves. And then, a gentleman in his seventies came over to our table and introduced himself as the owner of the inn. He asked where we were from. He seemed a bit surprised by the distance we’d travelled to get to the inn. We told him that we had been in Seattle before coming to the inn.
He casually mentioned that he had been the Mayor of Seattle. It was so subtle, that I barely noticed him say it. Like, “I was a painter when I was younger.” Considering the fact that Seattle is the 21st largest city in the United States, having been its Mayor is a pretty big deal. He told us he and his wife met at Columbia Law School (he was making the New York connection for us). When we finished our brief chat, he said, “Tell your friends about us.”
When my husband and I left the Inn, I googgled Paul Schell, the former Mayor of Seattle. There I learned that he had been quite a visionary. I was sorry that I had missed an opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, which he was instrumental in starting. There were other things that I was sorry I had missed the opportunity to tell him. So, I made a mental note that I would write him when I got home to share with him how much I enjoyed his Inn and how impressed I was with his career when I learned about it after looking him up.
We got home from our trip on Sunday July 20th. Paul Schell, the former Mayor of Seattle, died at the age of 76 on Sunday, July 27th.
So, what does this mean about the frailty of human life? Well, I’ve learned that Paul Schell loved Whidbey Island and he and his wife of 51 years had lived there when they weren’t in Seattle. He seemed happy when I met him. Content would be the word I would use, if a brief encounter can be any indication of a person’s state of mind. He seemed like a man who had made the choice to do the things that mattered to him in life and yet also live the life he wanted with the people he loved. I hope I’m right, because it’s an image that makes me happy. Finally, this article is my way of “telling my friends about him.” I’m also telling you about the Inn at Langley. It’s a special place that you should go visit if you have the chance.
Nancy Klingeman is married to Henry and the mom of two teenage daughters. She is a writer, a lawyer, and an observer of life's daily pageantry.
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