After work Thursday night, I drove into Saginaw with my friend and colleague Ron Brown, an English instructor at Delta College.
It was, as Ron put it, a special night for folks in our racket.
We pulled up to the Theodore Roethke Home Museum at 1805 Gratiot just before 7:30, and people waiting for the festivities to begin gathered on the wide front porch and in the first two rooms of the house.
Though I have read the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and driven by his family home once, this occasion was my first visit to the property.
As I stepped through the door, the cool in the night air was replaced by the warmth of a house full of local friends, glasses of wine, cheerful laughs and conversation.
There was a lighthearted mood of celebration in the air. I exchanged greetings with a few SVSU faculty members and made my way to the dining room.
There, professor of English at Delta College and local author Jeff Vande Zande stood beside a table bearing copies of “American Poet: A Novel” which, he had just learned, earned him the The Stuart D. and Vernice M. Gross Award for Literature.
Vande Zande is also the author of two other novels, “Landscape with Fragmented Figures” and “Into the Desperate Country.”
I produced three wrinkled fives from my pocket and gladly traded them for a fresh copy of “American Poet.”
I had a few minutes to talk about the novel with Vande Zande while he signed his name on the inside title page.
Before long, guests were called to their seats for the reading to begin.
All the chairs were filled. Some sat on the carpeted staircase, and others stood at ease near the fireplace.
Vande Zande talked about his protagonist, a young graduate with a degree in poetry by the name of Denver Hoptner.
When Denver’s applications for graduate school go unanswered, he finds himself unemployed and living in Saginaw with his father.
In the course of the story, Denver finds a special connection to the Roethke House as well as to the Saginaw residents and others who intend to preserve it.
The idea for the novel, Vande Zande said, occurred to him one day as he passed by the Theodore Roethke Home Museum while taking his children to school.
He said he looked up at the house and imagined a young man sitting on the rooftop with a bullhorn in his hand.
It was an unusual, random image.
Vande Zande said he didn’t know why the man was on the roof, and he had to write the novel to find the answer.
Vande Zande’s comment made me consider the countless others who pass by 1805 Gratiot daily without giving it such a look or even a second thought.
They may not recognize they’ve come so close to something beautiful, historical or unique.
The same can be said of any number of beautiful and special places or things around us.
Too often, perhaps, we walk about with our heads wrapped up in everything going on in our personal or professional lives.
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily struggles and neglect to take the time to appreciate a passing moment or indulge the imagination.
Some of us have our gazes fixed on text messages wherever we go.
Others have grown accustomed to staring at the ground to avoid eye contact or turning up the volume in headphones to ignore the passersby.
We can be very good at blocking out the world around us when we want to.
For all our fixation, isolation and insulation, we can forget to look around, to appreciate beauty surrounding us and to make social connections with people around us.
Our tunnel vision makes us no happier, and yet it becomes a habit, a daily routine.
While not all of us are destined to become novelists or poets, we should try to see more of the world the way they do — with heads held up to the beauty all around for those but willing to look, engage and imagine.