Monday, March 27, 2023

Poetry and the YMCA

During the first burst of Covid-19 when masks went up and doors slammed shut, everyone--regardless of their age--experienced an enormous sense of disconnect from their prior taken-for-granted, ordinary way of life. When this occurred and shut down businesses, schools, clubs, and services all over the nation, the essential staff of my local YMCA wracked its collective brains on how to help its significant membership of older adults, especially those who were living alone. First, it implemented a calling tree of volunteers to reach out on a regular basis to all its older members to make sure they were doing OK. Then it developed and offered special interest Zoom gatherings on a broad range of topics from armchair travel to cooking demonstrations for healthy eating, from Chair Yoga to exercise classes--just to name a few. One of the topics it offered was a poetry-writing group opportunity, probably one of the least likely subjects anyone would ever imagine the Y offering. But it did. And even now that the Y is operating in person to serve a full range of ages and needs, the poetry group still meets over Zoom.

I am still gathering with eight-to-twelve people twice each month to share poems we've written in response to a prompt offered at each meeting. We write; we read; we listen to responses--facilitated by Y staff and a local volunteer poet. The Poetry Potluck group of Greater Seattle has been thriving now for well over two years and its age range has broadened to include young, middle-aged, and older adults. People I've never met in person respond to personal poetry I present--something I've written in the two-to-three weeks before each of gatherings. We jestingly call it a potluck because if we get stuck (or busy), we can bring a poem we like that someone else wrote. That someone could be Shakespeare or e.e. cummings, or anyone! Below I'm sharing the poem I wrote in response to a 'run-on-sentence' prompt this week.


the berries burst and

bled into the batter

as Mother plopped

spoonsful onto the

skilled atop the woodstove

to stain my brain

forever with a taste like

nothing else in life and

prompted ecstatic moans

of m-m-m-m as syrup

made the rounds to

forever mingle love

with taste buds and has

me salivating tears

as I remember 

After everyone read their poems this week, one of the poets talked about the YMCA's fund drive currently underway. She reminded us how discombobulating it was as we experienced the Covid induced isolation, and how instrumental the Y had been in providing opportunities to connect with others. It was a short, sweet speech--maybe ninety seconds--but it was absolutely the perfect way to approach our group. When the Zoom call was over, I wrote this next poem in maybe ninety seconds, as well. It's true:  right message at the right moment delivered to the right group needs only 'a moment.'

Some musicians have 
perfect pitch
and delight their audience.
Some fund raisers make a 
perfect pitch
and move their audience.
Either way, it's perfect. 

If you have a YMCA in your community, consider supporting it with a one-time gift. From toddlers to oldsters, it provides a service that is essential for good health--connection and care--as well as healthy activities. All Ys are not-for-profit and have funds/scholarships to augment membership fees so no one needs to be turned away because they can't afford it. The YMCAs of our time embrace diversity and the needs of our era. Even a small gift can make a big difference.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

An old woman ruminates on the occasion of a non-event

Our community
still requires
masks as of 3/23

On March 8 I celebrated my most unmemorable birthday ever. It was actually rather freeing not to be fussed over. But it might have been the only year in all eighty-three with no cake, no singing, no candles, no packages to open. Other than two very lovely floral arrangements (also a balloon and some delish frosted pretzels) received from offspring and a wonderful hour-long Zoom call with all four, it could have been just any old day ('old' being the operative word). 

It's my very first birthday living in a retirement community, and I wasn't surprised about the absence of a candled-birthday-cupcake. Live flame is forbidden in our apartments, so it stands to reason it's not happening in the dining room, either. And because this community doesn't host a common celebration for residents' birthdays or post anything on a common bulletin board, I didn't expect that everyone here would toast me, drink to my health, or remark on my alertness (ha ha) at eighty-three. But no one? Really? I was both tickled to have not let it slipped and miffed that I hadn't shared it with anyone.

When I mentioned to my kids that no one here even knew it was my birthday, one of my sons countered with "Mom, do you know any of their birthdays?" and I had to laugh. Of course not! That's about the last thing anyone in our age group mentions about themselves. After age seventy-five, or so, we're all in in the same age clump!

If there was anything disappointing about my "non-event," it was the absence of snail-mail cards. I did get some cards via U.S. mail--a couple were from friends, but most were from commercial relationships, like Starbucks, the symphony, my bank, my realtor, etc. And yes, I did receive several electronic cards and loving text messages from friends and granddaughters. Although I can't set them out on a counter or table top, they can stay on my phone as long as I want them to. I can read them over and over, and there's a lot to be said for that. 

It's the same for voice messages--and although I usually clean up voicemail every week, there are two I will not intentionally ever erase. Both are messages from my late husband, Jay. One is from 2013, almost exactly one year before he died. It's a message intended for me to hear before I started home from an errand I was running for us, warning me about a street blockage preventing access to our home. It's dear and thoughtful. I love listening to it sometimes when I'm missing him a lot. Hearing his voice makes him seem like he's in the same room with me.

The other voicemail is from the following year. We were on the last vacation together we would ever have, and he is calling me from our Key West hotel room. In the message he's annoyed because I'm not answering my phone. Exasperatedly he explains that now he'll have to put his shoes on and come downstairs find me somewhere in the lobby. Oddly, I also love listening to that one, too, especially when I'm feeling sorry for myself as a widow. It's grounding to hear it; sometimes he was annoyed with me and vice versa. Hearing the little scold in his voice is the perfect reality check. It can be all too easy to glorify our dearly departed ones, and that message brings me back into reality. Yes, our electronic age has lots of perks!