West Seattle, Washington
The photo and report are from Sheryl Guyon:
Husky Deli has been a pillar of the community for generations. So, it’s not surprising that they attract quality employees.
What is a coincidence is that four of the young men serving ice cream have all been awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for exceptional service to their community.
It is a nationally recognized honor which was started by President Obama. It recognizes citizens who give back to their community in a significant way, each dedicating their time for the betterment of others.
Each student logged 150 hours or more of service in the past year, including time spent serving the homeless, participating in All City Band, helping freshmen at West Seattle High School through Link Crew, volunteering to help at sporting events, promoting the Crop Walk for Hunger, and helping younger students succeed.
The holiday season is a time to give … and a time to reach out.
It is also a time to try to cope with the loss of those who are no longer with us.
Three years ago, Jenny Taylor lost her 26-year-old son Jay Taylor in a car crash.
His loss was also a loss to the community. Jay was a star baseball player at West Seattle High School, helping the Wildcats win the league championship. (That’s Jay in the photo at right, with recently retired WSHS baseball coach Velko Vitalich.)
He also played college baseball at multiple schools, and his potential had been recognized by pro-baseball teams. Before all that, Jay mentored many younger players.
His promising future was taken away in August of 2014, on the night before he was to return to Kansas for his final year of playing college baseball. He crashed near Lincoln Park in a summer downpour. Jenny explains that he suffered a brain injury that took his life 9 days later.
“The loss of our son is something we will never get over in my lifetime. I wake up every morning trying to remember how his hug warmed my heart and how proud I was of him and maybe someday I will be able to feel love in my heart again. It’s just horrible to lose a child of any age.”
Before WSHS, Jay went to Schmitz Park Elementary and Madison Middle School. His love for baseball started with T-ball at age 5. Along with playing in youth leagues, Jenny says, her son “played all year around on select teams that traveled around … during the summer also.”
His achievements are detailed in part in his obituary. During his senior year, in June 2006, the Colorado Rockies drafted him, and interest was shown by other teams including the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres, Jenny recalls. “He didn’t sign and accepted a full ride to Lewis-Clark in Idaho that year.” His college career took him to several other schools, finally Sterling College in Kansas, “where he met his girlfriend, the captain of the softball team, and gave her a promise ring in May.” She too was from western Washington (Renton).
Then came the crash. “The night of the accident, he had been at Lincoln Park and left his backpack and went back to get it during a downpour, and was seen by a RapidRide bus driver rounding the corner on an a oily roadway, sliding into a pole and not getting aid soon enough …” Jenny says the bus driver did not call for help, while her son remained at the scene, gravely injured. But separate from that, she is seeking closure in the form of a headstone in tribute to her son. “I feel that all of his friends and teammates need some closure and a place to grieve, to process this horrible accident. I as a mother can only now think of putting his ashes to rest here in West Seattle in the (J) section that is still open after 3 years was just meant to be. My family is starting over and can’t afford the plot and headstone that Jay deserves.”
She is asking for community help via crowdfunding, hoping that those touched by Jay’s life might be able to make the memorial happen.
“My son never gave up on his dream, and deserves a nice headstone … he brought scouts to his school for other players to follow their dreams.” She hopes to be able to fulfill this last one she has for him.
West Seattle is clearly a hotbed of poetry! For the second time in four years, a West Seattleite has been appointed to serve as Washington State Poet Laureate. The just-announced 2018-2020 Poet Laureate is Claudia Castro Luna, who made history previously as Seattle’s first Civic Poet. She succeeds Tod Marshall, whose 2016-2018 appointment followed that of West Seattleite Elizabeth Austen (2014-2016). From the full announcement of Castro Luna’s appointment:
Castro Luna fled war-torn El Salvador for the United States at the age of 14 with her family. She went on to earn an MFA in poetry and an MA in urban planning. After working as a K-12 teacher, she became Seattle’s first Civic Poet, a position appointed by the mayor. In that position, Castro Luna won acclaim for her Seattle Poetic Grid, an online interactive map of showcasing poems about different locations around the city. The grid even landed her an interview on PBS NewsHour. She is also the author of the poetry chapbook This City and the collection Killing Marías.
Her appointment officially begins on February 1st. In February of last year, we covered her speaking in West Seattle at Southwest Youth and Family Services (photo above), telling the story of her “long journey.”
ORIGINAL REPORT, 2 PM: Out of the WSB inbox, the photo and report are from Matt:
This is not breaking news, but it is an example of the kind of little things that make me love this community …
Last night, on my way home from meeting a friend for a drink at Beveridge Place, I saw a couple standing over the prone body of a cat in the middle of 48th Ave SW, at about Raymond. Their car was idling behind them, the headlights illuminating them as they tended to the cat. I can’t be sure if they were the ones who’d hit it, but it didn’t seem like they had; their car was sitting well behind where it was lying. Traffic had slowed in both directions, and as I approached I rolled down my window to offer help — what I could have done, who knows — but they seemed to be doing their best. He was holding a collar in his hand and dialing his phone while she knelt over the cat, tenderly stroking its white and brown fur. It was clear that they were genuinely concerned and trying to find the owners. I doubt that they’re looking for any acknowledgment, but it’s another reminder of what great people live in WS.
Today I drove by the same spot and saw this hastily made memorial. The inscription inside the card, written in a shaky hand, read, “I was on my way to work. Please forgive me.” It would have been really easy to assume that the driver hit the cat, took off, and didn’t think twice about it. Clearly they wasn’t the case, and that gave me a little hope.
4:10 PM: We’ve heard from the cat’s person in this comment.
Looking for inspiration? You’ve heard of TED Talks … here in West Seattle, progressive Jewish community Kol HaNeshamah is presenting a series of FRED Talks (Fresh, Relevant, Educational, Dynamic). This Saturday (November 18th), you are invited to hear “Stories From Remarkable Volunteers in Our Midst,” 12:30 pm-2 pm. Featured speakers:
*Craig Greenberg is an airplane pilot with Angel Flight, a group of volunteers who fly their own planes and pay for flight costs to help families make critical journeys. Craig will share some of these heroic stories.
*Everyone knows breastmilk is the most superior food for babies, but breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come easy to everyone. Betsy Hoffmeister has spent more than 15 years as a volunteer leader and an on-call specialist for La Leche League, an international organization with the sole purpose of helping families and their babies.
*Henry, a clever canine and certified therapy dog lives with Lou and Janet Manuta and volunteers by bringing joy to people of all ages. He visits schoolkids, seniors, and so many others, sharing his tricks. Henry has agreed to do some tricks while Lou talks about how Henry got so good at what he does.
Refreshments will be served in the lobby prior to the FRED talks.
Suggested admission is $18, or $12 for seniors/students. Kol HaNeshamah requests that you RSVP online, by going here.
“Thank you” was said in many ways tonight as American Legion Post 160 in The Triangle hosted its annual free drop-in dinner for veterans and others connected to the armed services, along with their families. In the photo above are Cameron Foisy, Malia Geraghty, and Ana Geraghty, students at Holy Rosary School, where thank-you cards were made, along with Gatewood Elementary.
Once the first wave of guests – who ranged in age from babies to seniors – got their spaghetti and garlic bread, Post 160 Commander Keith Hughes offered a few words. He began with gratitude that Veterans Day is a holiday about celebrating those who are still with us, and gratitude for their service:
He also paid tribute to the service that so many continue to provide, even after they leave the military – a tribute that rang true, at the dinner cooked and served by volunteers, most of whom had also spent part of the day placing and removing flags in the West Seattle Junction.
Dinner guests also heard from Chelsea Clayton, a West Seattleite who works for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who read a letter from the senator, who began it by describing herself as the daughter of a World War II veteran:
In the letter, Sen. Murray promised she would “never stop fighting for those who fought so bravely for us.”
Throughout dinner, special music this year – patriotic songs performed by Sandra Walker:
Hughes explained she was a late addition to the program – he spoke at another local Veterans Day event earlier in the day, heard her play, and invited her to be part of the Post 160 dinner. She accompanied Hughes as he sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with guests invited to join in singing its chorus, before dinner resumed.
P.S. Post 160 – at 3618 SW Alaska – is also home to help for veterans year-round.
Earlier this week, we published Tim McConnell‘s invitation for any interested local U.S. Marine Corps veterans to join him in informally celebrating the USMC’s 242nd birthday last night. He promised to let us know how it turned out – and so today we received the photo and report:
Last night we had 5 Marines and one Marine family member whose mother was a Marine recruiter in WWII, get together to celebrate the 242nd Marine Corps birthday.
Only 2 of us knew each other beforehand, but by night’s end we all decided to make this an annual event!
Thanks to Poggie Tavern for letting us get together, swap stories, meet up with old friends (last saw each other April of 1990!), and make a few new ones.
Just happened onto a group from the Disabled American Veterans‘ local Chapter 23 (headquartered at 4857 Delridge Way SW) with blue forget-me-nots at West Seattle Thriftway (WSB sponsor). They’re only there until 1 pm today but will be at the Chelan Café 8 am-1 pm tomorrow.
If you missed his announcement in the WSB Forums – you won’t see Hank the Dancing Guy in the West Seattle Junction today. After what he counts as 31 Fridays, dancing at California/Alaska, he’s switching to Saturdays. The video above is from August, when we featured his story here after numerous reader questions.
P.S. We asked Hank a followup about why the change; he explains he’s not off on Fridays any more.
The night before Veterans Day, it’s the 242nd birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps – founded by an Act of Congress on November 10, 1775 – and Marine veteran Tim McConnell is organizing an informal celebration:
I am seeing if there are any other Marines in the area that want to get together this Friday for an informal celebration of the Marine Corps birthday. The usual Marine Corps birthday is a very formal ball, and is full of pomp and circumstance and formalities that I don’t have the time or energy to be a part of. I just want to put together a gathering of West Seattle Marines to toast the Corps, read the Commandant’s birthday message, and swap stories.
As you’ll see here, it’s 8-10 pm Friday (November 10th) at Poggie Tavern (4717 California SW) in The Junction. Just show up.
It was suggested to me that I email you regarding a moment that happened tonight as we were trick or treating.
My son was going up to a house and these two young Muslim girls, maybe 14-16, went up at the same time.
They were so excited, but as they got up there the man at the door yelled at and shamed them for being too old and not wearing costumes.
It broke my heart, they left nearly running away, upset. I don’t understand the hostility, because I grew up doing this until about 17. Also, these kids are not allowed to dress up, from what I was told. I feel like it was completely uncalled for, and hateful.
I want to try to reach out to the community and see if we can somehow get these girls candy. I feel like a lot of the Somali Muslim population in High Point may be new to this country and maybe these girls hadn’t gotten to experience Halloween before, and this man totally ruined their experience.
People need to meet others with love and empathy, and it has bothered me all night that this took place.
Last Saturday night, we mentioned the Southwest Youth and Family Services Night of Giving Gala – including an award for West Seattle mega-volunteers Jim Guenther and Sandy Adams. We noted that we hoped to hear more about it, and now we have the full story on their award and other highlights of the big event, courtesy of SWYFS development coordinator Adriana Zazula:
It was a downpour over the Georgetown Ballroom last Saturday night, but that did not stop more than 200 people from attending Southwest Youth & Family Services (SWYFS) Night of Giving Gala. Amongst the guests were elected officials City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, County Council Chair Joe McDermott, State Rep. Eileen Cody, and State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. Each came to the event with the assurance of hearing “Voices of Our Community.” And that they did. From one-on-one conversations with SWYFS staff about program needs to poetry readings and music performed by current participants.
Perhaps the most passionate voice came from SWYFS Executive Director Steve Daschle on how the current political climate is affecting our families and an equally powerful testimony as to the impact of SWYFS programs from former participant, Yohan Lara Aguilar.
Another spotlight was also put on fellow West Seattle residents Jim Guenther and Sandy Adams, presented by board chair Laura Ware. Since 2009, Southwest Youth & Family Services recognizes outstanding volunteers who have made a significant contribution to our work with the Weeks Family Volunteer Award. In honor of Ben and Roberta Weeks and their children, SWYFS selects a volunteer for their abiding commitment to improve the West Seattle community and exemplify our mission of partnering with families to transform their futures.
Jim and Sandy have done so much for the West Seattle community at large over the years. Fellow community members wanted to contribute the testaments to their legacy, one of which was Managing Director of ArtsWest, Laura Lee. Lee said, “Sandy and Jim are two of the most genuine, giving, caring people that I have had the privilege of knowing. I think of them both with hands outstretched, love in their hearts, and an energy and spirit that never flags or dims. Sandy has been a crucial volunteer, taking on some of the most un-glamorous and difficult work for ArtsWest. She has a lightness in her step only matched by the lightness in her heart. Jim is smart. One of those people that you really should pay attention to every word he says because it comes from a place of such intellect and experience. He gives generously and freely and is passionate about connecting people to important work. They are both not in anything for the short-term glory or the gain, they are committed to a life of giving and a spirit of generosity.”
Jim and Sandy have taken a great interest in all aspects of the work of Southwest Youth & Family Services, including our education center, our academic and enrichment programs at New Futures. Jim has consistently taken the time to get to know our families and youth and understand the hardships that they face. Together, Jim and Sandy have donated funds for vans, technology, post-secondary scholarships, and more for our students. Their contributions allow for another chance for our youth to access what is necessary for them to transform their futures.
Southwest Youth & Family Services would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to event sponsors International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Nucor Steel, Amerigroup Washington, Tom & Linda Daschle, Potter Construction, Molina Healthcare, King County Housing Authority, and Alaska Airlines, as well as all the guests and volunteers who participated and supported the 2017 Night of Giving Gala.
Thanks to Gary Potter of Potter Construction (WSB sponsor) for the photo – that’s him at right/center with Brian Waid, Rotary Club of West Seattle president (Gary is a Rotarian too), at tonight’s Southwest Youth and Family Services “Voices of the Community” gala at Georgetown Ballroom. 200 people there, Gary reports! Among them, West Seattle community stalwarts Jim Guenther and Sandy Adams, who, we’re told, were honored with an award for their volunteer work – congratulations! (We hope to have more on that later.) Not familiar with SWYFS? It’s based in North Delridge but helps youth and families via many programs in an increasingly large area stretching into South King County
Two and a half months after West Seattle Helpline announced its search for new leadership, the search is over. Here’s the announcement:
West Seattle Helpline, a nonprofit social-service agency offering emergency assistance for our West Seattle and White Center neighbors, is pleased to welcome Erin Dury Moore as the new Executive Director. Erin comes to the Helpline with 10 years’ nonprofit experience in fundraising, strategic planning, community development, management, and working with underserved individuals and families from diverse backgrounds.
Most recently, she was the founder of Heartwood Solutions, a Seattle-based nonprofit consulting firm, and prior to moving to Seattle, served as Executive Director for Oregon’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) programs. Erin earned her Masters of Nonprofit Management at the University of Oregon in 2013, where she also completed her BA in Women and Gender Studies.
“The Board, staff, and I are so looking forward to Erin joining our organization! She brings great attitude and energy, experience and passion for our mission to the team. We believe she is going to have a great impact on West Seattle families in need,” said Nick Naubert, President of West Seattle Helpline’s Board of Directors.
Come meet Erin in person at West Seattle Helpline’s annual Neighbors Helping Neighbors dinner and live auction on November 3rd, from 6-9 pm at The Hall at Fauntleroy.
You can get your ticket(s) by going here.
On a Friday afternoon two months ago, a young man’s life ended in a car parked on Beach Drive SW alongside Emma Schmitz Overlook. We reported briefly on his death, determined to have been by suicide; those who knew and loved him have maintained a memorial in his honor nearby. And today a friend e-mailed, with his family’s permission, to invite you to support a campaign for a permanent memorial in honor of 20-year-old Miguel Sanchez Sampablo – a bench in a West Seattle park. Ava Olsen says, “As you likely know, the entire community was shaken by the devastating loss of Miguel Sanchez, who was one of our best friends and sweetest souls I have ever met.” Many knew him from his years at Chief Sealth International High School and Denny International Middle School, and from his job at Marination Ma Kai, where a benefit was held for his family. Ava says they have already obtained permission from Seattle Parks for the proposed bench. The crowdfunding page that’s been set up is here.
Remember that anyone with thoughts of self-harm can reach the Crisis Clinic 24/7, 206-461-3222.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
~60 people sang, prayed, and pondered in a candlelight circle tonight outside Fauntleroy Church, during an emotional vigil that went beyond mourning the 59 lives lost in the Las Vegas massacre.
Leading them, above, were West Seattle’s three United Church of Christ pastors, from left, Rev. Diane Darling of Alki UCC, Rev. Leah Atkinson Bilinski of Fauntleroy UCC, and Rev. Andrew Conley-Holcom of Admiral UCC. Their voices rang clear in the night with grief and anger – and even a prayer of confession, that “I confess I believed things would get better on their own, and I confess that I was wrong.”
There were questions – including those raised in Bob Dylan‘s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the first song led by Bronwyn Edwards and Leann Conley-Holcom, with readings between the verses:
As the names of those who died in the massacre were read – “so many lost” – there were a few words about each. Someone celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary. Someone celebrating their 28th birthday. A father there with his four grown children. Off-duty law enforcers. The mother of a 6-week-old baby. A 67-year-old woman. And when Seattle resident Carrie Parsons‘ name was read, Rev. Atkinson Bilinski noted that Ms. Parsons was the “close friend of the granddaughter of a Fauntleroy Church parishioner.”
A chime sounded after each name and description … and the last name read was that of the killer, noting that he left behind his family, as well as a nation “confused and heartbroken.” And it was noted that the massacre took the spotlight from others around the world who are in pain and suffering, from hurricane and earthquake victims to those in our country experiencing racism and other social injustice daily. Gun-violence statistics were read, including the fact that “most gun deaths are suicides.”
Ultimately, however, the vigil’s message was that of hope, with the candles representing “the light of love” – hope that with action, with collaboration, change can be made. In that spirit, the final song was “Somewhere to Begin” by T.R. Ritchie:
As the vigil ended, participants were invited to continue lighting candles and to write notes of appreciation to local first responders.
We are told the notes will be taken to a local fire station on Sunday.
That video clip from California tells the story of the Threshold Choir, which is expanding into West Seattle. The announcement is from Susan Moskwa:
Are you a woman who loves to sing? Are you drawn to offering your voice as an instrument of kindness to those who are seriously ill or dying? Are you interested in joining a supportive community of women who gather regularly to rehearse and sing at the bedside?
If your answers are yes, yes, and yes, then you are invited to attend a Threshold Choir introductory meeting in West Seattle.
Threshold Choir is an international choir with chapters in over 150 communities throughout the United States and in seven other countries. Our mission is singing for individuals at the thresholds of their lives. Our Seattle chapter is called Seattle Threshold Singers.
This fall the Seattle Threshold Singers will begin rehearsing in West Seattle. We are holding two introductory meetings to provide information about our plans: Saturday, October 21st from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., and Wednesday, November 8th from 10:00 a.m. – noon.
We will meet and greet, sing songs, and answer questions about the international Threshold Choir organization as well as our local chapter.
This is an all-volunteer group. We honor all spiritual paths and have no religious affiliation. There are no auditions but we do ask that you can carry a tune and have time to attend two rehearsals a month.
Rehearsals will be the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month from 10 to noon in West Seattle. If you are interested but cannot make this particular rehearsal time, let us know. At this time, you can either come to rehearsals in Seattle’s north end or wait to see if evening rehearsals will be offered in the south end.
Find out more about the Threshold Choir on its website; if you are interested in joining and/or have questions, you can e-mail email@example.com.
(WSB photos: Signs at ‘A Grand Affair’)
Speaking of the West Seattle Food Bank … one week after its “A Grand Affair” cocktail-party fundraiser (WSB coverage here), we have word that its results were even grander than last year. From WSFB’s Judi Yazzolino:
The West Seattle Food Bank would like to graciously thank our sponsors, Board of Directors, donors, guests, and our dedicated and hardworking volunteers for making the 2nd annual A Grand Affair cocktail benefit at Westland Distillery on Friday, September 29th, such a big success. We raised more than $48,500 – 16% over last year – to continue the programs needed to help those in our community in need of food and other services.
Guests were winning millions at the casino-style gaming tables; tasting Westland Distillery’s delicious whisky, Peel & Press’s Aviation Cocktail, The Bridge’s Lavender Drop, or Husky Deli’s Beer Float, generously bidding on unique auction items, or raising their bid cards for the thousands in our community in need of a little help.
Thank You to Our Generous Sponsors!
We’d like to thank the sponsors who generously supported A Grand Affair: The Muckleshoot Tribe, HomeStreet Bank, Quail Park Memory Care Residence of West Seattle; BECU, Ventana Construction, FASTSIGNS, West Seattle Blog, & Westside Seattle. Thank you so much for your continued support. Thank you so much to all of the businesses and individuals of West Seattle! All proceeds from A Grand Affair will ensure that the thousands of children, seniors, and adults served by the West Seattle Food Bank will have access to quality, healthy food and other needed services.
Couldn’t be there? Lots of ways to help WSFB – money, food, volunteering, more – any time.
From Chief Sealth International High School principal Aida Fraser-Hammer:
Chief Sealth International High School announced that Amad Ross has been named a Commended Student in the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program. A letter of Commendation from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), which conducts the program, was presented to this scholastically talented senior on Friday.
Commended students placed among the top 50,000 of more than 1.6 million students who entered the 2018 Competition by taking the 2016 preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSATNMSQT). “The young men and women being named Commended Students have been demonstrated outstanding potential for academic success,” commented a spokesperson for NMSC. “These students represent a valuable national resource; recognizing their accomplishments, as well as the key role their schools play in their academic development, is vital to the advancement of educational excellence in our nation. We hope that this recognition will help broaden their educational opportunities and encourage them as they continue in their pursuit of academic success.”
Amad is a part-time Running Start student and a strong leader at Chief Sealth, having been co-organizer of a Walk-Out against the Trump Travel Ban and a Rally against Anti-Islamism. Chief Sealth is very proud of him and we look forward to sharing more about his accomplishments as he graduates and enters college.
West Seattle has many scouting groups with long histories – and now, a new group is getting ready to launch, with two meetings in October. In case you haven’t seen it on our calendar, here’s their announcement:
For anyone who is interested in an inclusive, non-religious scouting experience for all genders, we are starting a group here in West Seattle. We’ll be learning outdoors skills like orienteering, tracks and first aid to name a few. Dues are affordable (scholarships also available) and include uniforms as well as handbooks. We are part of the Baden-Powell Service Association.
We meet twice monthly starting in October, once on a weekday evening and once on a weekend day. The group is divided into Chipmunks (age 2-4), Otters (age 5-7), Timberwolves (age 8-11), Pathfinders (age 12-17), and Rovers (ages 18+).
Our first weekday meeting will be 6-7:15 pm Monday, October 9th at the High Point Library, 3411 SW Raymond. We will be getting to know each other, playing games, and learning about orienteering.
See our calendar listing for a link to the waiver they’re asking attendees to bring. The new group will have its first weekend meeting noon Sunday, October 22nd, at the Lincoln Park North Play Area.
This is a letter for you, from Sarah, a neighbor whose husband was among those first on the scene when a murderer shot and killed 25-year-old Edixon Velasquez this past week.
To My Dear West Seattle Community,
My husband ushered our children into the back bedroom to finish their movie, unaware in their innocence, as the gunshots cut the air of our neighborhood. A quiet street I’ve only ever known to be full of dog walkers, joggers, and the occasional driver going a tad too quickly down a residential street, now filled with flashing blue lights, yellow tape, and chalk.
Our front window, which still looks out at a row of adorable houses that remind me of a rainbow, now also looks out on the memorial of a young man, our new friend, killed just steps from our front door.
It has been a hard week for us. And here, in West Seattle, as I go to my kids’ school, to work, and talk to our neighbors and friends, it sounds like it’s been a harder season for us as a community in general. We’re growing a lot, so many new people, so much less space, so many more cars.
And it seems as if it the growth is coming with more stories like the one that unfolded outside my dining room window as a life flowed out into a storm drain in the street while the kids obliviously sang along to “let it go.”
There are more stories of people hurt, hurting one another, kids discouraged from walking to school without a grownup – our ideals of safety threatened and somehow suddenly fleeting.
People seem more afraid and it’s coming out as anger; I get honked at more, glared at more, and if I’m honest, I’m honking more, snarkier with the person taking too long (in my opinion) in the checkout line, defenses automatically up when I walk out the door. It just seems we’re all more on edge. The tensions of our world, our city, and our community, stuffed down into raincoats with zippers increasingly too short to hold all the pain and wondering in, and so there are quick glances away if our eyes meet a stranger’s. Friend or foe? We don’t know, and we’re too heart-tired to find out.
But in the wake of the events this week, I’ve thought of our West Seattle community a lot, and I had a few very simple things I wanted to share with you. So, here it goes…
I think a lot about fear. If I’m honest, I can feel a lot of it on a daily basis. I’ve learned over the years how to use it as a catalyst for good, how to be grateful for my constant vigilance, seeing the many ways it has benefited my family, my community, the things I am involved with. Fear is like a yellow light – it’s not a directive to stop or to go, it’s just a sign it’s time to make a decision. And the more information I have about my trajectory, goals, and physical realities, the more likely I am to make a wise choice in response to that yellow light.
My favorite yellow lights are the ones accompanied by an accurate pedestrian crosswalk – that number countdown to the yellow light is what all lights should be, and what I wish life provided: adequate time to know what to expect and how to prepare.
But in real life, which has come way too close to home for us this week, it doesn’t work that way. While the yellow light of fear happens frequently enough, it is very rarely preceded by a gentle warning: “fear is coming soon – just wanted you to have a bit of time to prepare and plan your response.”
Here is what I have learned about fear: if we do not choose how we will respond when it inevitably comes, then in the face of fear what flows out of us is our worst, not our best.
Fear tells us there is a threat, and in the absence of an intentional response to fear, our instinct tells us to turn away, to pull in, to put up higher fences, install bigger security systems, and fortify our defenses. And we do. I do.
But, here is another thing I have learned, having grown up in a city where the literal fences were high, topped with barbed wire, and monitored by dogs and armed guards. The put-up, pull-in, back-off mentality does not bring a greater sense of safety, nor does it diminish an actual threat of risk. Perhaps it does for a moment, but not for long. It is fleeting, and our belief in our own ability to singularly control our individual outcome in the world is like a drug: we need bigger doses of heavier substances to retain our feelings of control.
We are a culture that prides itself on self-reliance and individualism, and a city where politeness is paramount but our internal walls are high and we more easily turn away than towards. Uncomfortably, especially for us, this truth remains: the anecdote to fear is not an exertion of power or a reinforcing of our own walls. The anecdote to fear is togetherness.
This week has been incredibly hard for me and for our neighborhood, but it has been so softened by the fact we already knew our neighbors – even the ones who were the victims in this senseless tragedy. There was instant comfort in knowing that even in the midst of real fear we were surrounded by people who knew us, knew our kids, had us watch their pets, and came over for drinks or bbqs.
We didn’t know our neighbors on accident; there was no roster passed out when we moved onto the block several years back. There was a lovely bottle of wine dropped off, and a couple phone numbers swapped at a Neighbors Night Out. The rest has been slow building. It has meant going on evening walks as a family and stopping to say hi to anyone we see out and about, including getting into or out of their cars (and yes, it’s always awkward, and yes, it’s always met with eventual warmth). We introduce ourselves, say where we live, offer to swap numbers and remind people “we’re close by if you ever need anything.”
It has meant watching when the houses go up for sale, knocking on the doors of folks as they unpack their boxes, passing on the next bottle of wine, swapping numbers, and again saying, “we just live right there…so glad you moved in.” It has meant large group text chains telling neighbors about impromptu BBQs on the first warm Saturday of spring, asking for help managing our chickens while we travel, walking the mail incorrectly delivered to us over to its rightful owner a block away and choosing to knock on the door rather than stuff it in the mailbox.
Building community, which I recently heard described as common unity, does not happen through programs, or private groups. Neighborhood groups on social media help with the transfer of goods and information, but they are no substitute for a handshake, an eye-to-eye smile, or a knock on the door.
I’ve lived in a lot of places, I’ve been close to a lot of pain, and experienced it myself. I’ve had my sense of safety violated more than once, and know it will happen again. As much as some knee jerk part of me wants to do everything I can to gear up for battle, I’ve lived long enough to know the real war isn’t in the moment of fear, it’s in how I’ve prepared my heart, my family, and my community before it comes.
I’m a fighter, through and through; there is no flight in me. But I won’t fight fire with fire or violence with violence for one simple reason: love is much stronger than hate or fear. You see, hate and fear eat a soul alive while love self-repairs and grows stronger each time it’s shown. A community turned toward one another, intentionally woven together, is more safe than a community pulled away from one another in fear and hate.
It’s not up to me to decide what your block is like – that’s up to you. But here on this block, even after the week we’ve had, we’re going to keep turning in. We’re going to keep watching each other’s pets and kids, inviting each other over for warm pies, asking how the day was & waiting to hear the real answer. And the folks at the corner of the block are going to wrap this around the block and across the intersection, and I hope it spreads like the blackberries at EC Hughes until West Seattle is known as the part of town where folks know their neighbors, aren’t afraid of the ways our city is changing, and see the yellow light of fear as an anticipated reality that we get to respond to with choice.
I hope you’ve already planted your own blackberry patch of love and togetherness in your neighborhood. But if you haven’t, that’s ok, just consider this letter a starter clipping from mine. It’s all you need to get started, just drop it in the soil of a knock on a neighbor’s door, water it with a the swap of a phone number, and fertilize with a text when you’re running to Target and just wondered if anyone in the neighborhood needed anything while you were out.
Hate raised its head this week, and it will again, even today. But I’ll raise my head even higher, choose to look in your eyes a little bit longer, fighting for love a little bit fiercer. It’s the very best thing I know how to do, and I really, really hope you’ll join me.
And you know, we live just down the block so if you ever need anything, just holler; and if you’re new, we’re so glad you’re here.
That Seattle Public Schools video clip shows you what happened this past Wednesday night when the School Board took a joyful action – renaming Highland Park Elementary School’s library in honor of LouAnne Rundall. She’s been a volunteer there for 45 years, more than half her life; teacher-librarian Chris Robert and principal Chris Cronas sang her praises to the board. Hours before the board’s vote, she was honored at an assembly on the first day of school. LouAnne has actually spent close to 50 years working in the library – what she does as a volunteer was a paid position for a few years. Thanks to Chris Robert for letting us know about this – he also shared this photo of LouAnne with him in the HPES library:
She is also the subject of a tribute on the school library’s webpage.