A Letter from Ruth
September 8, 2020
In the first poem in 2019/20 Youth Poet Laureate Wei-Wei Lee’s book, In the Footsteps of a Thousand Griefs, she writes:
Since then, I am always half-turned, wherever I go.
Into classrooms, turning corners.
On Metro buses or LINK trains.
Walking to school in the soft wash of sun and dew
or headed home, with the chatter of a friend at my side
and cool evening falling.
I keep looking back,
but what I’m looking for isn’t there,
won’t be there.
Cannot possibly be there.
I look anyway.
While she is writing about looking back for the home and father she has left, Wei-Wei’s words have been echoing around in my head on my morning walks with my dog, as the air has turned crisp and the sunrise comes later each day. Fall has always been my favorite season, with its rhythm of new notebooks and new beginnings, but this year all of us are looking ahead and looking back for the thousands of things that are different, wrapping our heads around an entirely different fall from any that have come before.
As Wei-Wei so keenly observes, what we are seeking cannot possibly be there, but we look anyway. Look back, look again, look more closely. And as much as I am mourning the things that are not possible this fall—my niece and nephew heading back to college, gathering with all of you in Benaroya Hall to listen to authors I admire, flying cross country to visit my dad—I’m trying to pay attention to the new things that I find when I look.
I see old friends of mine in NYC and DC subscribing to our SAL series, which would have been impossible before. I see our WITS writers intrepidly sharing strategies to engage students online, and creating lessons and videos to spark stories and inspiration. I see the community who won’t be able to gather at our traditional Back-to-School fundraiser for WITS rallying to support this work in our new online campaign. And, in every segment of my life, especially at SAL, I see all of us thinking and talking about racism and how we can work to be actively anti-racist and combat systems of oppression. As much as there are terrible things happening on so many levels, and so much absence to mourn, there are also many hopeful things emerging. I’m trying to remember to see those, too.
My new fall notebook just arrived in my mailbox—it is red and full of blank pages, and this gives me hope, too. To me, Wei-Wei’s poem, “Saudade” is about grief and loss and looking backward, but it’s also about hope, and the inherent hopefulness in continuing to look, and in seeing.
Wishing you new notebooks and hope, and looking forward to seeing you online at SAL this fall,
SAL Executive Director