Somewhere in Time

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I grew up hearing stories about my family, and somewhere along the line I thought I’d heard that two of my grandparents had siblings that died of the Spanish Flu. I wanted details, and needed a distraction, so I took this on as a mission, which led to several hours on Ancestry.com and a few story gathering conversations with relatives.

My Granddad Acree did indeed lose an infant brother in the early part of 1921 to illness. His name was Virgil Lee and he only lived to be three months old. From what I’ve read of the 1918 flu pandemic, it ended in December 1920. So maybe it was the Spanish Flu or maybe it was something else that killed Virgil Lee. What I do know is that the loss stayed with my Granddad even though he was only four years old at the time. He took my mom to the gravesite once when he was an old man and told her what he could remember.

My Grandma Ross did not have a sibling that died from the Spanish Flu as far as I can tell, but looking at the census information from 1910 and 1920 I began to put together a story that could explain where the notion came from. In 1910 my grandmother lived with her family on Wilson Mesa, which is just a few miles outside of Telluride, Colorado. At the time she was eleven years old and a number of other siblings, some older and some younger, still lived at home. One of them was Gladys, just a couple years older than my grandma.

By the time the 1920 census rolled around, my grandmother had married and was no longer listed with her family of origin. Gladys was there though, but her last name had changed from Campbell to Anderson. (I would later find out that it was Sanderson, but the census taker got it wrong in 1920.) Her marital status was widowed. Also in the family were two more Sanderson’s. Barbara, age 4 and Frank, age 2.

I have a vague memory of my Aunt Gladys as an old woman. She looked a bit like my Grandma Ross, but seemed very different from her in demeanor. I found her obituary from 1986 and it says she enjoyed crafts and attended the Assemblies of God Church. She was survived by four children and preceded in death by two husbands. Her first, Frank Sanderson, died in 1918.

I dug around for an obituary of Frank Sanderson, but couldn’t find one. I did learn that when he registered for the draft the year before he died, he was 23 years old. He was tall and slender with light brown hair and blue eyes. He was employed by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company. I discovered that his son, also named Frank Christian Sanderson, was born six months after he died.

I found historical records and newspaper articles about the Spanish Flu in Colorado and learned that many of the small mountain towns had a much higher death rate than other communities. Mining camps were hit especially hard, probably due to close living quarters and possibly because of compromised lungs. Frank Sanderson died in 1918, but I found nothing definitively that says he died from the flu.

An estimated 8000 people died in Colorado in 1918 from the pandemic, but of course people died of other things too. Even young healthy people. Not knowing the cause of my great aunt’s husband’s death bothered me more than it should have. I wanted to know for the sake of the story I was determined to write.

My little bit of research led to pieces of other tragic stories that took place on Wilson Mesa, like the one about an infant that suffocated while sleeping between his or her parents on an especially cold night. And like the doozy of a story about the son of one of my grandparent’s neighbors who tried to castrate himself. And the tale of how three-year-old Sherma Campbell died by ingesting poison from the midwife’s medicine bag while her mother was in labor.

I dove into this genealogical vortex hoping to find a story that’s relevant to what we’re experiencing now, a century later, with the coronavirus. But I did not find what I was looking for. Instead I found names and dates of births, deaths, marriages, and draft registries.

Still it was time well spent. For hours I got lost imagining the possibilities of who those people were, and what their stories might have been. In the end though, the specifics didn’t matter. What mattered is that something of what they went through a hundred years ago carried through to now.

The experience allowed me to consider that compassion might penetrate time and space in ways we don’t fully understand. And on the chance that it does, I sent a little of it back to those whose time here was much more difficult than our own. And I sent a little of it forward to those who’ll be trying to make sense of our stories one day. It’s important, I think, to remember that it’s not all about us.

 

 

 

Twenty-four more thoughts. 3/22/20

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  1. Just a few months ago, during Advent, I read WH Auden’s long poem “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio” for the first time. He wrote it during the Second World War. In it there is one line that I haven’t been able to shake. Here it is, out of context:
  2. “Nothing can save us that is possible.”
  3. I copied the line down in my journal and I’ve read it again and again.
  4. Like so many of us, I am home now. I’ve got my husband and my dogs. Plenty of firewood and food plus lots of extras: books, Netflix, internet, running water, music, heavy cream for my coffee, salmon and halibut in the freezer. I’m still working, but without the commute. I’m still getting up at six and going to bed at ten. I still have chickens to feed and meals to cook and dishes to wash. There are still bills to pay.
  5. We ordered our seeds last weekend. Not hoards of them, just the ones we need. Carrots, beets, salad greens, peas, onions, zucchini, squash and a variety of tomato that will hopefully ripen before freeze up. We still have a couple feet of snow on the ground but the days are warming and it’s beginning to melt. Tomorrow we’ll plant seeds and from now until we’re able to transplant them into our garden beds our house will be cluttered with trays of green.
  6. We’d planned for a smaller garden this season with a June wedding and a July party taking priority this time around. Now, along with most everyone else we know, we don’t know what to expect or how to plan.
  7. Our lives have been predictable for a long time. Our work weeks and weekends, our planned vacations and our holiday breaks. There is comfort in predictability, but a kind of complacency has sneaked in along side it. Now my days are still predictable for the most part, but I feel a type of vigilance I haven’t felt for a while.
  8. Our daughter and soon-to-be daughter-in-law are in Atlanta, Georgia. They’ve got shelter and stable employment and family close by. They’ve added Ryder, a foster dog, to their pack while they’re holed up at home. He’s a good distraction while they’re waiting it out.
  9. We’re all waiting.
  10. Our son is in Canada. What was originally a three-week long trip to Ottawa has turned into something entirely unknown. He’s good with not knowing what comes next and he has a kind of faith that carries him from moment to moment with a remarkable absence of fear. And he’s figuring it out with a close friend for company.
  11. In a pandemic, it’s good to be stuck with a person you want to spend time with. My pack is lucky that way.
  12. I had a hard time concentrating this week. My mind is always prone to wandering but it was even more off course than usual. On more than a few occasions I found myself completely checked out in the middle of important conversations. Reading anything more than short articles was completely out of the question.
  13. Some people snap to it in times of crisis. I unfortunately drift off. I think of lines of poetry. I’m hyper-aware of small details like the clock ticking louder than usual, the ever-present smell of disinfectant. I want to stand at the sink for an hour with hot water pouring over my hands. The chocolate melting on my tongue requires all of my focus.
  14. One time when our children were young, we returned from an excursion across the bay. While we were unloading the skiff, our daughter fell into the harbor without her life jacket. I saw the whole thing happen but it was like my brain slipped into slow motion. Before I’d even processed the gravity of the situation my husband leapt out of our boat, jumped over me, and yanked her out of the water. I was there to dry her off and soothe her after the fact. But I was not the one to save her life.
  15. I’m lucky to be stuck with someone who snaps to.
  16. Our son called from a grocery store in Ottawa last week to ask for the ingredients for miso soup. Carrots, mushrooms, onions, garlic, ginger, celery, tofu, miso, cayenne, tamari, pepper.
  17. In the recipe description it says, “miso is said to have special healing properties.” Whether it’s true or not we’ve been serving it to our family like medicine for over twenty years.
  18. We’ve got twenty years of anecdotal evidence now, and I can say with certainty that it works, at least in our family. It helps with colds. It helps with hurt feelings. It helps get the blood flowing when the house is cold. And it helps with homesickness.
  19. I made some last night, and I’m counting on it to help improve my concentration.
  20. I guess it makes sense that many of us are feeling out of sorts right now. Just two and a half weeks ago a person from the public health office told our staff that it seemed unlikely that the library would have to cancel any programs or close. Now the building’s doors are locked and we’re working from home. The news is grim with stories of unemployment, financial stress, hospitals under-equipped, and of course the daily tally of new cases.
  21. It’s a lot to process. I wish I could serve up some of that miso soup to the whole world.
  22. I also wish I had a tally of all the good deeds I’ve heard about this week. They reaffirm my faith in humanity and they’ve acted as a counterbalance to the bigness of Covid-19.
  23. We’ve got other big things that we’re going to need to deal with soon.
  24. Maybe Covid-19 will be the thing that convinces us that we can do impossible things when we have to.

 

Twenty-four thoughts: March 15, 2020

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  1. It seems like we’ve been waiting for something like this, anticipating it, expecting it, but it doesn’t look like what we thought it would look like. We still have running water and electricity. Most everyone we know is healthy.
  2. A few people I know have been shouting for a few weeks now about covid-19, and in retrospect they are the ones who’ve understood the potential gravity of the situation. In the Bible, Noah was an alarmist, and as the story goes, he saved his family. Maybe if more people had listened to him he wouldn’t have ended up drunk and depressed and alone on the planet with just his kin.
  3. I don’t feel lonely at home, but I know that’s not true for lots of people. The extroverts I know are struggling with this. They are devastated by the closures, by having to stay isolated, by not being able to attend the events they’d been looking forward to. The introverts seem to feel a sense of relief. Finally, we don’t have to push ourselves to go out and do things when what we really want is to stay at home where our lives are rich and full and where we are never bored.
  4. I wonder how long I’d have to stay home before boredom set in. There’s a part of me that would like to find out.
  5. The library where I work is now closed to the public. I think about a few of our patrons who don’t have homes to putter around, who don’t have a stocked pantry or a wood stove. I think about the kiddos who use the library as more than just a place to play video games and hang out with their friends.
  6. I think about my friends who are trying to get home from France right now. They have dogs and chickens and jobs to get back to, but will they first have to go through a gauntlet of crowded airport terminals and testing upon their arrival?
  7. Speaking of chickens, I wonder how the supply of chicken feed at Save-U-More is holding up. I wonder if it’s another one of those things that people bought up in the great shopping frenzy of Friday the 13th. I was going to stop by on my lunch break on Friday for some Rugged English Cheddar and canned tomatoes, but the parking lot was full of people loading up their trucks with bottled water and bags of flour. If all the chicken pellets are gone I guess I’ll have to get creative.
  8. Creativity might just be the thing that saves us. Our lives are largely run on autopilot and this might be one of those times when we’re called on to be more resilient, more imaginative, more willing to try new things. Under the surface of all of this, there is some serious potential.
  9. The thing about potential is that it is run by free will. We have the potential to make this a time that we look back on with awe and wonder at how well we cooperated with one another.
  10. I might look back on it as the time I created my own chicken feed out of decades-old pasta and dried nettles. It would be inconvenient, but I could manage to keep my eleven hens and one rooster alive until the ground thaws.
  11. It’s inconvenient for all the nations of world to have to deal with a singular crisis at the same time. Usually catastrophes are parceled out. A hurricane here, an earthquake there. Famines and refugees in faraway lands while we go on with our day-to-day lives. There’s something humbling about an indiscriminate virus that’s making its way around the globe.
  12. Speaking of viral, I tried to give up Twitter and Facebook for Lent. I gave them up for myself rather than for God and so I’ve granted myself forgiveness for logging on to the social media platforms before Holy Saturday. These are unusual times and I wanted to see what other people had to say about what’s going on in the world.
  13. Most of the people I’m connected with are dealing with this virus, with the closures, with the social distancing (had I even heard of that term before last week?) just like I am. They’re trying to figure out how to respond to something that most of us have never had to deal with. I find that sense of camaraderie heartening.
  14. A few of the people I’m connected with seem unconcerned and unbothered. They think that those of us who are concerned are being duped.
  15. And I get it. When we think we’re under attack, it’s easy to let fear guide our choices. So instead of believing there is something to be afraid of, these people believe that we’re being made to feel fearful.
  16. If all goes well and we’re able to flatten the curve and minimize the immediate crisis that this virus has the potential to cause, we’ll have done our job. Sometimes a job well done is hard to measure.
  17. When it’s all over, how will we measure how many people didn’t die? Will the folks who think we’re being duped look at the low numbers of the deceased and say, “See, it wasn’t so bad!”
  18. We’ll have financial fallout to contend with when all of this is over and as it always goes, money is easier to measure than life. How will we measure the collective three, five, fifteen years of extra life that will be granted to those who are able to get the medical care they need to survive this virus? How will we measure all that they still have to offer? Their humor, their insight, their wisdom? What about all the love they have to give and receive?
  19. And so it comes down to time. We’re putting the extended life of potentially millions of people in the bank by trying to slow down Covid-19.
  20. Remember that saying about money and time? If you have one you don’t have the other.
  21. If the cruise ships don’t come to Alaska this summer, if the tourists decide not to travel here, if the restaurants and stores stay closed, the budget that determines my paycheck will certainly be impacted.
  22. I could get caught up in the worry about what lies ahead as far as my family’s finances are concerned. We all could.
  23. But instead I can focus on this beautiful, unprecedented, unexpected thing that seems to be happening.
  24. We’re closing up shop around the globe because we believe humans are worth saving, and we’re being given an opportunity to prove to each other that it was the right choice.

I Believe

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When my daughter was a baby, I got sick. It seemed that every bug that was going around Homer that year clung to me. Months of hacking and sneezing and feeling feverish culminated with a painful and persistent sinus infection. Since I was breast-feeding I didn’t want to take antibiotics, so I suffered along and took care of myself as best I could in hopes that my immune system would kick into action. It seemed stuck though, and I was about to give up on my no antibiotics resolve altogether when I decided to try one last thing. That’s when I called Sara.

I’d taken a community schools class with Sara about classical homeopathy, and while I was intrigued about it, I was not convinced it would heal my sinus infection. Still though, I made the appointment with the hope that it might help in some way, and I desperately needed some relief.

At the time I lived in town and Sara’s home office was several miles out East End Road. I packed up my baby and made the trek to her place and sat in her cozy office for what seemed like a very long time while she asked me hundreds of questions. To my surprise the questions she asked weren’t about my condition, instead they were strangely specific and methodical. I don’t remember most of them, but I recall being asked if I preferred sweet apples or tart apples. And another question that ended up being an important part of the puzzle. Did I have any recurring dreams? At the time I said no. Not because I was trying to lie, but because I just didn’t remember them.

After all of the questioning, Sara took some time to do her thing, which as far as I could tell involved looking at my answers and poring through the books and notes that she’d collected throughout the years of her practice. Out of all the homeopathic remedies that are available, Sara narrowed it down to two different ones that she thought might be able to help me. She gave me one of the two and sent me on my way with a promise from me that I’d let her know whether or not it worked.

In two hours time, the headache I’d had for three weeks was gone. For a while that evening I had some relief from the relentless pounding in my head, but just before going to bed it started to creep back. After getting the kids to bed, and crying over the fact that the homeopathic remedy worked temporarily but not permanently, I remembered my recurring dream. It was a dream I tried to forget about, not because it was scary or bad, but because it involved a past love. It makes sense that I wanted to suppress that dream. It was completely incompatible with my real life.

The next morning I called Sara back and told her about the few hours of relief I’d had, and I told her that I’d answered her question about recurring dreams incorrectly. She said that settled it, the remedy that she’d given me was not the right one and that I should go back and get the correct one from her. I followed her suggestion and went back to receive the little white sugary pill that the greater scientific community says does nothing, and my sinus infection went away for good. I haven’t had another one in the twenty-three years since then. And as a bonus, like magic, the recurring dream went away as well. None of it makes any sense according to the way we know things work and don’t work, but in my case the homeopathic remedy worked, and the experience made me a believer.

Many of the people reading this know Sara. She’s a long-time Homer resident married to another long-time Homer resident, Ed, and together they are a powerhouse of knowledge and hospitality and goodness. But recently they’ve suffered the worst imaginable thing. You see, Sara is the mother of Anesha Murnane, or Duffy as she was more widely known, and Duffy went missing back in September. She left her apartment in broad daylight on a Thursday afternoon to walk to an appointment, but she never made it.

Something happened to her that somebody must be able to explain, but so far none of the answers have made their way back to Sara and Ed. And Sara and Ed know about asking questions. They’ve been asking and asking, following every idea and potential lead that comes their way. There have been news stories locally and statewide; there have been search parties around the Kenai Peninsula. There have been public vigils and private prayer circles, but still Duffy’s whereabouts are unknown. None of it makes sense, and the unlikelihood of her disappearance makes it all so much more upsetting. Duffy wasn’t a risky person. She had a close relationship with her parents. Her days were made up of routines and familiar comforts. She had things to look forward to.

There is nothing good that has come of Duffy’s disappearance. A shadow of uncertainty looms over town as we wonder what terrible thing happened to her. Her parents are having to come to terms not with just the fact that they’ll likely never see their daughter again, but that they may never have the answers they’re seeking. There’s a sense that someone’s done something horrible and that if that person is not found something horrible could happen again. There is nothing good that has come from Duffy’s disappearance.

And yet, goodness can still be found.

I visited Sara and Ed on New Year’s Eve as the temperature outside was dropping and a blizzard was moving in. They shared their lunch and some of Ed’s homemade kombucha with me. We talked about Duffy and the ways they’re coping. Their kitty, Louisa May Allycat, popped up on my lap as we ate lunch and Sara joked about the books the cat has written…. Little Bats, Little Shrews, Little Mice. We looked through their wedding album and saw the twenty-years younger versions of so many of the beautiful people who celebrated that day with them. Sara shared a piece of writing with me about grief. I went there hoping that I could give them a little bit of support, a little bit of relief. I wasn’t expecting to get it in return, but I did.

Spending time with them in their comfortable home reminded me of when I was a young mother, desperate for some relief and seeking some healing. Sara made me feel at home and asked me questions and administered a remedy that worked. I wish I could offer her the same now, but I know the kind of healing she and Ed needs doesn’t work like that. Still though, I believe in healing, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. I believe it’s what we’re here for. To heal each other and our world in whatever ways we can.

 

 

 

 

 

Epiphany

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For a while I have been writing and my writing has been fraught with trouble. Trouble over who will read it or who will not. Was it written smartly, will I offend anyone, am I even right? I’ve been writing but I’ve been afraid of my own words. Who will comment? Who will dispute me? Am I sharing too much? And the ever-present question, am I writing for the right reasons?

Why do I really want to write? To instruct? No. To start an argument? No. To prove my point? No. I want my reasons for writing to be bigger and better than they’ve been in the past. I want my writing to bring people together rather than divide them. I want my writing to feel warm and welcoming. I want my writing to resonate. I want my writing to accomplish more than what seems possible. I want to make music with my words. It all sounds very lofty, and it’s what I’ve wanted all along, since back in the day when I first started this blog. But I’ve been distracted by so many issues. I’ve been caught up in perfection and numbers and trying to figure out what it means to be a real writer.

The temptation is to take down all of my old posts and start from scratch. Clean slate this Lofty Minded in Alaska blog and move forward without looking back. But looking back I can see my own growth. I can see how I was processing the things around me. I’m embarrassed by some of my old posts. So much of my past decade is represented on this blog but it’s a testament to my own personal growth, my own maturation. I’ve floundered about publicly. And I’ll continue to flounder about publicly. But right now on this Epiphany Sunday I’m making the effort to move this blog in a new direction.

We’re living in a most exciting time. Our President’s behavior is unlike anything we’ve seen before in this country. Our planet is warming. Our access to information is unprecedented. Our technological advances are happening faster than most of us can truly comprehend. It’s no wonder that anxiety and hopelessness are at an all time high.

All of these huge, global things are on our minds. But so are our everyday, mundane, and seemingly small lives. We’ve got bills to pay, marriages to celebrate, gardens to plant, chores to attend to, jobs to perform. We’ve got the heavy weight of the world and we’ve got the small joys that make this life worth living. The juxtaposition of the two is overwhelming and sometimes it seems like we have to give one up for the other. We have to give up on watching the news and trying to bring about global change in order to live joyful lives. Or we have to give up our small successes, our moments of beauty, and our personal goals for a better future in order to fight the big fight.

I’m here to tell you that it’s all connected. The small and the big. The mundane and the meaningful. No action, no thought, no hope for a better existence is lost in the enormity of it all. Your life matters. How you live it matters. Your desires, your aspirations, your pursuit of happiness matters. Aligning your own life to fit with what would make the world a more prosperous, happier place for all of humanity is the ticket to bringing the big and the small together. It’s about love and compassion, first and foremost for yourself. If you can forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made in the past, then you can forgive the president for the mistakes he’s making right now. If you can forgive yourself for your old ways of doing things, you can forgive humanity for its mistakes in harming Earth and its inhabitants. There is still time for correction, but first we have to correct ourselves.

Here is how I am working to correct myself:

  1. I’m trying to understand that everything and every person is infinitely more complicated than what comes across on the surface. Each person comes with a history that determines their fears, their health, and their outlook on life. Each person is working with what they’ve got, and if they want to grow and change all they have to do is open themselves up to the possibility of growth and change.
  2. I’m choosing to grow. Learning comes in so many different forms. It’s physical, it’s spiritual, it’s intellectual. A person can only stay stagnant by choosing to stay stagnant. Choosing to change with a changing world is survival, it’s adaptability, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Stagnation is a losing strategy, and I’m opening myself up to possibilities that are beyond my imagination. I’m doing it consciously, because I see it as my only hope.
  3. I’m giving up on trying to sound smart or artsy or clever. I’m letting my heart lead me forward, and trusting that it will direct my mind.
  4. I’m submitting to something that is much bigger than myself. I don’t know best how to define it, and the definition of what it is doesn’t really matter. It’s the submission to it that matters. I know that my mind cannot comprehend the vast universe and everything that is beyond my own experience. There is great comfort in this submission.
  5. I’m finding my sense of purpose. I don’t know what I need to do to move the trajectory of life in a more positive direction, but I know I need to align myself with what’s right. What’s right is Peace. Love. Forgiveness. Kindness. Compassion. What’s right is protecting the planet that nourishes our bodies and our souls. What’s right is trying to see the good or the potential good in every person. Every. Person. Even the ones that are not currently aligned with what’s right.
  6. I’m asking for grace. I’m making myself vulnerable and I’m taking a tremendous risk in how I write and what I write. I’m asking in advance for grace and I’ll offer it to you in return.

I know this all sounds vague, but I’m putting this out there in order to take a step that I’ve needed to take. Stay tuned for posts that are less vague and in the meantime know that we are not doomed. Not individually, not collectively. Love will guide us and give us the energy we need to move forward. Say you believe it, even if you don’t.

 

Rooting for Alaska.

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Our three bedroom, ranch-style home was built in the 70s and even though it’s structurally sound, it’s time for some upgrades. It needs some insulation and several coats of paint. The foundation has shifted a bit and now there is daylight in our crawl space where there oughtn’t be daylight.

In addition to the repair and upgrade list, we have a lot of stuff. When we bought the house two decades ago, the previous owner left everything but his microwave and a suitcase full of clothes. Now we have some of his stuff, plus all of our stuff, and we’re stuffed to the gills. Our garages are full of outdated outdoor equipment, boxes of books and all the other odds and ends that we didn’t have room for in the house. Our closets are bulging with clothes we don’t wear and shoes and boots and jackets from winters past. In the last two years we’ve accumulated four freezers, and a host of other treasures (a coffee table, a 2.5’ x 6’ framed poster of Kachemak Bay, a stack of pallets and a set of french doors) we’ve brought home from the the transfer station we drive past twice a day, every day. Yeah, we’re Alaskan.

We know it’s time to clean up. We know it’s time to haul some of our treasures back up the road. Our house needs upgrades and fixes and we need to make it all run more efficiently, especially if we want to grow old here. The scope of it all is overwhelming. Somedays it feels like it would be easier to bulldoze the place or burn it to the ground. Somedays, especially when I’m tired or particularly discouraged, I have to ask myself if all the work is really worth it.

It would be easy to sell this place as is and let the next family that comes along fix it up, and we’ve considered that option. But for now we keep coming back to the fact that this house we’ve raised our kids in, these five acres that we’ve called home for twenty years, this life that we’ve created for ourselves on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness is something we treasure. Yes, it’s cluttered with stuff we’ve accumulated. Yes, it’s time to pay attention to the things that have been neglected. But there’s no question as to whether or not it’s worth our effort. This is our home.

 

There’s a part of me, the overwhelmed part, the small part that sometimes wants to walk away and start fresh, that understands where Governor Dunleavy and those who support his budget must be coming from. Alaska isn’t as flush as it once was, and the hard job of maintaining the standard of living Alaskans have become accustomed to is not an easy task. At times it must feel like balancing the budget and taking care of Alaskans is more than what’s possible. So maybe hiring someone to come in and ignore the people side of the equation seemed like the easiest, fastest solution to the state’s budget crisis.

Alaska is not a business though, and our governor should not try to solve its budgetary woes without taking its people into consideration. Governor Dunleavy is treating Alaska as though he’s the CEO of a corporation rather than the governor of our state. He’s balancing the budget to keep the interests of the oil companies ahead of the interests of the people.

Imagine our university system shuttering several of its campuses. Imagine not being able to take the ferry from one coastal community to the next. Imagine schools closing and teachers having to manage 35 or more students in a classroom. Imagine state social workers with double their caseloads. Imagine the hundreds of people who would lose their healthcare. Imagine the damage that could be done to fisheries without adequate environmental oversight. Imagine prisoners being sent to private facilities thousands of miles from their families. Imagine towns losing their emergency services. Imagine a great migration of Alaskans to the lower forty-eight because their prospects in Alaska have dried up. This is what Governor Dunleavy has to offer Alaskans. And he wants to do is as fast as possible.

“We’ll build up from zero,” he says, as if all the infrastructure and investment of the last fifty years of statehood aren’t worth considering. “I’ll veto any new taxes,” he says, in an effort to keep Alaska’s economy completely dependent on oil.

Slow down, I want to tell him. Let’s recognize that there’s more to living in Alaska than getting a check in the mail every October. Let’s consider all our revenue options before destroying this place that so many of us love. It may require restructuring the way we tax oil companies. It might mean a return to the pre-oil days when residents paid a state income tax. It may take some time.

We know we’re in trouble. The price of oil isn’t what it used to be and production is down. We know it’s time to pay attention to the expenditures that our formerly robust economy let us ignore. But it’s possible to create budgetary solutions that take all Alaskans into consideration–it has to be because the role of government is to serve the people. And it’s possible to move into the future while respecting our unique history and honoring the pioneers who made this state a modern, livable place. We’d be foolish not to.

If enacted, Governor Dunleavy’s proposal to zero out the budget and start from scratch would leave an unnecessary wake of collateral damage that could only be measured in losses for Alaskans. Five thousand fewer jobs, a skeleton university system, underfunded schools — all of which will lead to other disastrous outcomes. I hear there are a few elected officials in Juneau who have decided to work off of the 2019 base budget and disregard Dunleavy’s plan. I hope it’s true. I’ll be rooting for them and a three-quarters majority. A lot depends on that three-quarters majority.

Imperfect Prayers

 

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A few days ago, a poet friend of mine posted on Facebook a prayer from the late Brian Doyle’s book A Book of Uncommon Prayers, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Actually I’ve been thinking and writing about prayer for a while now, so it’s no wonder that Doyle’s prayer struck me, or stirred my soul as my Grandma Ross used to say.

For a long time now, I’ve not used the word prayer. I somehow conflated prayer itself with the religion I was born into, and when I moved beyond that belief system I thought I needed to let go of prayer. But prayer is not something that can be co-opted by any particular church. No one entity has ownership of prayer, and so I’m free to figure out what it means to me.

Back in the day, I prayed to God or Jesus. The God I prayed to in my imagination was like the storybook images I’d seen—a burly bearded white male with white hair in the clouds residing over the entire human race. The image I prayed to when I prayed to Jesus was a younger, gentler version of the God in the clouds—a bearded white male in a robe holding a staff but with darker hair and with a less severe look about him. You all know the images I’m talking about.

I’ve changed, and my ideas of God have changed, but I’m finding that there is still a place for prayer in my life. In fact I can’t really imagine not praying because it’s a part of how I cope with the overwhelming nature of the world. I can only do so much with my limited time and energy and means, and prayer is for the infinite number of things that are beyond my ability to change with direct action. In other words, prayer is really about surrender. I can’t change the world, so I send out these thoughts, these wishes, these worries, and these hopes that are bubbling over inside me because there is simply nothing else I can do.

Who do I pray to? Not a father figure in heaven anymore. If God exists and is omnipotent and everywhere, then God is beyond my imagination and is certainly not limited to gender or race or to the human form. I also can’t pray to the idea of a God who would allow suffering and war and turmoil to the degree that it exists on Earth. So I pray to the imageless unknown—call it energy or the universe. Maybe I’m just praying to the air. Honestly though, the entity to which I direct my prayers doesn’t need a name.

What good does prayer do? There is no measure. If my prayers were answered the way I’d hope they’d be, humankind would be doing everything it could do to keep the Earth habitable for future living beings, millions of innocent people wouldn’t be facing starvation in Yemen, and our president wouldn’t be using my tax dollars to hold creepy pep rallies for himself across the country. If my prayers had the impact I wish they had, a particular young man I’ve seen around town would have kicked his addiction by now and the kiddo I see looking so sad at the library every day wouldn’t look so sad. But part of prayer for me is letting go of the idea that everything makes sense or that supernatural intervention can swoop in and make everything better. I don’t pray because it’s the sensible thing to do. I pray because what else can I do? I pray with the hope of being given an idea of what I can do.

There might not be a way we can save us from ourselves. There might not be an end to human suffering. But I have this inherent desire to swing the pendulum toward good. Prayer may or may not do such a thing, but as long as it’s not a substitute for doing good, or being good, as long as it’s not an excuse to turn away from the parts of life that are painful, prayer, at the very least, is not causing harm.

I could let the ugly aspects of this world swirl around inside me. There they could fester and make me angry or sick or, worst of all numb. But I don’t want to be numb. And so I’ll continue to pray, knowing that it’s possible and quite likely that prayer is just my own way of feeling better about being helpless. I might not change anything or anyone but myself when I send out my imperfect prayers, but if doing so gives me the ability to live on this earth without succumbing to despair, I’m okay with that.

Short Respite

 

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I’m writing this on a Tuesday after work, and if I’m counting right, we’re on day 14 of a stretch of sunny days. For the record, this does not happen here in this part of Alaska. We have occasional sunny breaks from a rainy stint, but we don’t have this shade-seeking, sunhat-wearing, cold drink-drinking kind of weather after the middle of August. This late season unexpected bit of wonder is more than I could have hoped for, and my heart is near bursting with gratitude.

Our summer company has gone home for the season and things are slowing down around here. It gets dark before 10:00 p.m. nowadays, so we have an excuse to settle down a bit in the evenings. Last night before going to bed I stood in the yard and looked up at the sky for a while. It’s unusual to have non-freezing temperatures for stargazing.

Knowing so much is wrong with our world makes this moment right here, right now, feel impossibly perfect. These are simple pleasures I’m experiencing—cool grass under the blanket I’m sitting on, a cup of fresh-picked strawberries beside me—but I’d be a fool not to acknowledge the good luck that has brought me to this moment.

Right now there is hardly a breeze. Right here the low angle light is shining from the west across the meadow below our house and it’s illuminating the last of the summer’s insects as they do their slow hovering dance with the fireweed cotton. The birch and cottonwood trees are tipped in gold and against the blue of the sky and the green of our lawn and the orange of the nasturtiums, I cannot make sense of how the world can be so devastating and so wonderful at the same time.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I don’t have a lesson or a moral or call to action. I’m just wishing I could share this. Wishing everyone could taste the tomatoes in our greenhouse that have been granted a couple extra weeks of sunshine for ripening. Wishing everyone could sit here and watch the boats skiff across the bay toward the harbor. Wishing I could wrap everyone in this blanket of how I feel right now and let them rest here for a while.

 

 

Hometown Pride Follow-up

Two weeks ago I wrote a post in response to the Homer City Council’s canceled meeting. It was a personal post as it involved my daughter. Although I had her blessing, my writing put her in an interesting (and very public) spot. She watched from afar as hundreds of people read my blog post and the subsequent “Point of View” piece in the Homer News. Below is her own response to all the hullabaloo:

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Thoughts on Homer Pride by Adella Sundmark

In response to the recent goings on in Homer, thank you to everyone who has shown the LGBTQ community love, compassion, and support. I want to share a little bit of my own perspective, because I worry that some people may have misunderstood where I am coming from.

I want to clarify that I do not, overall, feel unwelcome in Homer. I will be visiting home in about a week, and I can’t wait to go across the bay with my family, meet friends at Alice’s, and spend time with my black labs on East End Road. The city council members’ actions were certainly not welcoming or encouraging, however they are not, by themselves, how I decide where to live. They are just going to be one more thing in the back of my mind when I someday decide where I want to live with my girlfriend and our future family.

I want to live in a place where I can be my full self without fear. Is it because I am “too fragile” to handle the subtle (and not so subtle) homophobia and hatred that LGBTQ people experience every day? Absolutely not. I have handled plenty of that already and, by the looks of things, I have plenty more ahead of me. Am I going to consider where I am likely to be safe and welcome as someone in a visibly queer relationship? Will I try to minimize the homophobia my family and I will undoubtedly experience wherever we live? Of course.

To be honest, a proclamation in support of LGBTQ citizens is a relatively small gesture. It basically says, “We see that you exist, and we are okay with it.” Do I appreciate it? Yes. Is it earth shattering? No. However, the council members’ refusal to show up to a job that they were elected to do simply because recognizing the existence of people like me is so controversial? That is no small statement at all. That sends a message.

I think a lot of the controversy comes from people not understanding why things like Pride are important. If everyone is equal, why keep highlighting our differences and making such a big deal out of things? To those people, I see where you are coming from. I too want to live in a world where our differences don’t matter, everyone is equal, and pride parades aren’t necessary. However the reality is, LGBTQ people (and countless other minorities) have historically been, and continue to be, the subject of discrimination. Sometimes it comes in grand gestures of hatred, such as the horrific massacre of 49 LGBTQ people at Pulse Night Club in 2016. Sometimes it comes in more subtle ways, such as parents requesting their child not be in a lesbian teacher’s class because her lifestyle is “not appropriate” for children. Sometimes this hatred destroys families, such as when parents kick out a child because they don’t look or act or speak the way that a boy or girl “should.”

My point is that Pride exists specifically because LGBTQ people are, to this day, not treated equally. It is a matter of civil rights. Think about why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important. Is it because other lives don’t matter? Of course not. It is because historically, and to this day, black people experience violence and discrimination due to their skin color. I understand that Black Lives Matter and Pride exist in completely different ways, however in both cases, they represent an attempt to counteract the unique discrimination that each group experiences.

I am not fragile, and I certainly don’t want any special crown for being gay. However the idea that people can be gay if they just stay quiet about it is a form of homophobia. The message I received from the council members who did not show up for their job was just that. Lets stay quiet on this one. Thankfully, I received a quite different message from many people in Homer.

If you want to live in a place where pride isn’t necessary, we’ve got work to do. I am not saying that everyone has to march in a parade. If that doesn’t work for you, think about what does. Maybe speak up when you hear kids calling a boy in their class a faggot. Maybe start reading articles by members of the LGBTQ community in an effort to better understand their experiences. Maybe take time to make sure your children know that you love them unconditionally, no matter who they turn out to be or love. In any case, do something. Perhaps more importantly, be respectful and supportive of others who are trying to do something. Show love and ask questions with an intent to learn. Happy Pride!

Hometown Pride

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Bear Cove Rainbow. Photo by Teresa Sundmark

My daughter called me today from a rest stop an hour south of Philadelphia. Just two days ago she finished her first year as a school teacher, and now she and her girlfriend are moving to Atlanta where she has another teaching job lined up for the fall.

Sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that just a few short years ago I was driving her to school and staying in town late for Nutcracker practice. Now she’s off and running, in a serious relationship and with a career of her own.

Of course I’m excited for her, and proud too. She finished high school a year early and left for college. At age 21 she took a job teaching twenty-eight fifth graders in an underfunded school district. In terms of maturity, she is light years ahead of where I was when I was her age.

Because she was on the road when we spoke this morning, we didn’t have time for a long conversation, but after we chatted about her dog and their move south and her upcoming visit home, I asked her an important question. She’s always been open and upfront with Dean and I about her relationship with her girlfriend, but I’d never asked if I could write about it.

When I asked her directly if she minded if I write about her being in a same-sex relationship, she laughed a little.

“I don’t mind at all. I’m not trying to hide anything,” she said. “Are you going to write about the city council?”

I was surprised by her question because I didn’t know she still follows the news from home.

“Yes,” I said. “I don’t know what to write, but I feel compelled to write something.”

“You might mention that what happened doesn’t exactly make me want to move back to Homer anytime soon,” she said.

I suspect that the decision made by three of our council members the other night was not meant to be personal, and I’d like to grant them some grace. But hearing my daughter say those words hurt.

I think it’s important for Shelly Erickson, Tom Stroozas, and Heath Smith to know that on the other side of the country, one of Homer’s own was paying attention, and their flat out refusal to take part in something as simple as a Pride month recognition sent her a message that was not especially welcoming.

I don’t understand what could have motivated them. My best guess is that they are afraid. What, besides fear, could have left the three of them feeling like their best option was to not show up for the job they’ve been elected to do?

Are they afraid of the LGBTQ community? If that’s the case, they might do well to get to know some of their constituents, or possibly my daughter. They’ve probably seen her before, dancing in the Homer Nutcracker or singing in the school musical. It’s likely they’ve seen her name in the local newspaper for making the honor roll or for her participation in the Homer High School speech and debate team. If they spent even just a little time with her now they’d learn that she’s got a great sense of humor and is kind and compassionate. She’s the kind of young woman that most anyone would want to see come back and make Homer her home.

Are they afraid of the folks who voted them into office? Did the group of people who falsely conflated Pride with pro-abortion and anti-family sentiments intimidate them? Surely they were not shamed into sabotaging the city council meeting by a bunch of emails from a group of people who misunderstand what Pride is all about.

Maybe they’re afraid of their own discomfort around issues of homosexuality, trans-sexuality or queerness. If so, there are plenty of people who’d be happy to talk to them, or offer them resources so they can expand their knowledge base. I’ve discovered that learning about others’ lives and experiences is a good way to build empathy and extinguish fear.

If I could talk to Heath or Tom or Shelly personally, I’d reassure them that they don’t need to fear people like my daughter who, whether by choice or by design, love people differently than they do. I’d remind them that nobody is trying to dictate how they configure their own families and I’d point out to them that secrecy and shame are more harmful to families than love and acceptance.

I’d also encourage them to remember that their role as city council members is to help enhance the quality of life of those who live here. Being part of a declaration (or proclamation or recognition) of acceptance of the LGBTQ community members would have caused no harm, and it would have meant a great deal to many.

I understand that to those who are buying into an old story about what’s right and what’s wrong, it seems like the world is changing fast. But it’s time for the three members of our city council, and those who rallied to make an issue of the Pride recognition, to come to terms with the fact that LGBTQ folks have been a presence in our society throughout history. The level of openness is what’s new, and families and individuals and communities are better when people don’t feel they have to hide in shame.

Maybe it’s good that this happened, even though it’s been frustrating. Maybe someday we’ll live in a society that doesn’t need Pride marches or rainbow flags, but we’re not there yet. The council members who refused to attend Monday’s council meeting made a lot of us realize the importance of Pride month.

If it weren’t for all the outspoken folks and their supporters throughout the years, if it weren’t for their brave declarations of love and acceptance, my daughter might not feel as open and as trusting with us as she has been. She has nothing to hide, and so she hasn’t kept an important part of her life from us. And if not for those outspoken LGBTQ folks and their supporters throughout the years, I myself might not be so accepting. It’s a hard thing for me to admit, but it’s true. I was not raised to believe that homosexuality is okay. It wasn’t until I met some openly gay and lesbian and bisexual individuals that I questioned the belief system that had been dictating my opinions. I am more empathetic and compassionate because of people who refused to live in the shadows.

Our actions, our statements, our gestures—they make a difference. Especially when we’re in the public eye. If the three city council members feel that their values are compromised by something as simple as a show of support for the local LGBTQ community, I would suggest that city government is not the best place for them. If they meant no harm, if they regret their decision to sabotage the city council meeting that was supposed to take place on Monday night, it’s not too late for an apology.

I’m not interested in shaming the council members or harboring anger toward them, even though I disagree with them. All I really want is for my daughter to feel that there is a place for her in this community should she ever decide to move back.

I’m thinking that a good showing at next week’s Pride march will be an effective way to send her, and plenty of others, that message. The march starts at WKFL park at 11:00am. I hope to see you there.