Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Optimism for 2020

At the top of the Douglas fir tree in this recent photo, notice the huge nest. It belongs to a pair of bald eagles, and the tree is on my street, just one block from where I live. Because my street has no outlet, I walk or drive by the tree whenever I leave home. In the nine years I've lived here, the eagles have raised quite a number of eaglets in that nest. In early summer of 2019, their lone eaglet fell to its death as it fledged. It was a sad event for everyone in our neighborhood.
Within these last several days, there are signs the eagles are fixing the nest up, an early activity of a new breeding season. Even if we don't see them flying in, we know there's activity because of 'whitewash' (birder talk for bird scat) on the pavement below, and multiple small branches and twigs cluttering the street along the eagles' flyway. 

I know it's inappropriate to anthropomorphize animal behavior, but poetically speaking . . . I'll say the eagles are exhibiting hope and optimism for the new year, and I wish that for all of us.  

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Poetry and Dopamine

Last night I went to Bothell's own monthly poetry Open Mic night, held at our local gallery, Tsuga. I love the event--one of the many things I began doing after becoming a widow. Participating in activities I'd never done before was a way to enjoy myself without associating the activity with Jay, which would have made me feel sad. I've written poems and read poetry all my life, but had never been to an Open Mic until late 2014.

Although I enjoy these evenings enormously, I attend only five or six a year because of other events I enjoy also fall on Saturdays. Sometimes I read poems; sometimes I just listen. The evening always begins with the Guest Poet, an invited poet who reads for twenty or twenty-five minutes. Then Open Mic begins, and anyone can sign up to read for up to five minutes. The audience usually averages ten or twelve participants, but last night there were five people present--three poets, me, and one audience member.  (It seems December's Open Mic Poetry night fell on the same evening as an annual wine-tasting event in downtown Bothell, so although lots of people were walking around the neighborhood, most carried wine glasses, showing off their Christmas sweaters or seasonal, silly head wear and were there for anything but poetry.)

I had printed off a few older poems quickly when I realized I could attend last night's event (my Saturday night plans had fallen through) and headed out to the gallery. I didn't anticipate reading, but 'just in case,' I wanted to be ready. When it turned out so few poets showed up (including the Guest Poet), I was glad I had something to read. But I wasn't prepared for the reaction I got to "Falling Gently," a version of which was on my blog in December 2009 as  "Sidewalk Carol."

"Why hasn't that been published?" the Guest Poet asked, then quickly added, "Astonishing that it hasn't been!"

I won't deny it--that comment made my day, maybe even my week. Audible sounds during the my reading had conveyed its resonance to me, but I wasn't ready for such a strong and explicit remark. Weird how a little bit of flattery gets the dopamine flowing. I smiled demurely at the question--immensely flattered--and thought to myself, 'Well, it's been published it on my blog,' Today I decided to publish it again, mainly because it's been slightly revised since I posted it ten years ago.

Spoiler alert: the word "dopamine" in the title of this post is only about how good it feels to hear a compliment--not how you will feel after reading the poem.

FALLING GENTLY . . . a homeless woman sings her carol to the passerby

I see snowflakes falling gently
Each one different and unique.
I hear church bells in my mind
Ringing in the night's mystique.

Once upon a time remembered
A little child was homeless born.
A baby boy without possession,
His swaddling rags inviting scorn.

I see snowflakes falling gently
Each one different and unique.
You treat homeless people badly
Consider us pathetic, weak.

A child today died on this street,
Hundreds more are huddling, cold.
You pay them no attention, withholding
Frankincense and myrrh and gold.

Mary, Joseph, Babe in arms
Bound in love and covenant
Fled to Egypt seeking haven
Left their home--itinerant.

I see snowflakes falling gently
Homeless people, young and old.
Curled up tight on bus-stop seats,
Shivering, frightened, freezing cold.

Merry Christmas to my friends--
The beggars on the street.
We can't close our doors like you
To keep it private, upbeat, sweet.

City homeless, what a shame!
Not your problem, we've no food.
You want Christmas pure and merry
With nothing ugly to intrude.

Could you gift us from your surplus?
Could you share with us your gold
Could you be both hope and harbor?
For us homeless? Hungry, cold!

Bless me, Jesus, Savior, Friend.
Help me, Jesus, Lamb and King.
Grant compassion, help them see
Your presence here in everything.

I see snowflakes falling gently
I hear church bells in my mind.
Remembering the homeless Baby,
Please resolve to be more kind.

Jesus knows not wealth or status.
Through my tears the snowflakes blur.
He was homeless just like we are.
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Sara J. Glerum
Copyright (c) 2019

Sunday, December 1, 2019

When an address becomes a home

For a number of years the old signs on HWY 522
were removed. A few years ago private funding
enabled a new sign with the old slogan
to be erected in a downtown park.
When Jay and I got serious about simplifying our lives by moving from our home in Lake Forest Park  to a condominium, we were open to living just about anywhere in the northern part of Seattle or its suburbs. After a prolonged hunt for a place with all the amenities we wanted, we knew almost the minute we stepped inside the condo we ended up buying that it was right for us. Only one small drawback, we thought: it was in Bothell. And why did that bother us?

When we lived in Lake Forest Park, we'd travel through Bothell frequently. It has much-used Washington State Highway 522 running through it, so it's a necessary pass-through for a lot of destinations. Large signs used to greet drivers on both ends of the city limits: "WELCOME TO BOTHELL FOR A DAY OR A LIFETIME." You couldn't miss the signs; you couldn't avoid them; you simply had to read them as you sped through town. We used to laugh because we never spent any time in Bothell--it was just a place on the way to somewhere else. A day? What would you do for a whole day in Bothell? We used to launch our canoe on the Sammamish River in a Bothell park, but that was the only reason we ever stopped.

One of those Sunday mornings when Jay and I were on our way somewhere, one of the welcome signs had been roughed up by mischief-makers. We couldn't help ourselves and burst out in prolonged laughter. Instead of saying Welcome to Bothell, some smart-assed kid had sprayed out the BOT so the sign read, "WELCOME TO HELL FOR A DAY OR A LIFETIME." Even as we signed the mortgage papers several years later, Jay teased, "We're gonna do this, right? for a day or a lifetime?," adding, as he snickered, "and we hope it's not 'hell'."

Now, these nine years later, I realize I love living in Bothell. Why? Because with its population of 44,000, it's the just right size to be involved in as a citizen. There're plenty of ways an ordinary person can step up, help the city, and have a say in what's happening. In this era of feeling like we're being rolled over in so many ways, it's great to feel heard and seen as a citizen. I have friends in nearby cities who don't even know the name of their mayor, let alone recognize him if he were in the same grocery line. But by just occasionally attending city council meetings and participating in city feedback sessions, I recognize (and am recognized by) the city manager, council reps, and various members of city staff when I see them 'out and about.' It's empowering to feel visible and heard. I've had helpful conversations with city police and even sat down with the fire chief last year to help write a statement for a new fire station proposition in a voters' pamphlet.Yes,I try to be a good citizen, but my small gestures of help come back tenfold as a gift to me.

After telling the City Manager one afternoon in a community 'talk-back' session about a confusing left-turn lane by the library, it was fixed the next time I drove to the library! Thinking it was a happy coincidence, I mentioned it to her the next time I saw her. "Oh, Sara, we're so glad someone told us! We never would have known about it if you hadn't said something." And why am I writing about this today? Because Bothell made it on my 'gratitude list' this weekend--something I often overlook doing until our trusty Thanksgiving holiday brings it to my attention. Thank you, Bothell.