| What I Learned In Alaska
Another shooting spree, violent lack of trust between citizens and police, an election campaign marked by lies and incivility–turn on the news and witness the horror, 24/7. It’s corroding friendships, dividing families. It’s waking many of us up at night. Because suddenly everything seems upside down, unpredictable, catastrophic. Who can bring order out of this chaos? In November we will go to the polls to elect a new leader of the free world. A crucial choice.
Indeed, I wonder what could be more significant? The fact that several of my friends are dying this fall? The fact that the day I post this will be the hundredth anniversary of my mother’s death? Or that sunlight is falling like bars of gold onto the maple in our back yard as I write to you?
I’m looking for some perspective, some escape from gun violence, from a political drama so relentless that if it could, it would imprint itself on the sky and trees and rocks. I’m looking for relief precisely so I can put things in perspective and maybe in some way help.
Early in September, I was lucky enough (call it blessed) to teach for 10 days in Alaska bush country, most of the days at a fish camp on Harvester Island. No phone, no radio, no airstrip, no ads, no flush toilets. I walked under arthritic-looking, gale-battered trees. I stood above the ocean in a field of grass cowlicked by the wind. I followed the flower of my flashlight down a rough path at 2 a.m. to the outhouse. I pulled on a fleece against the cold, read poetry, and talked with women and men who had gathered from all parts of the globe to do precisely that. Writers. We were quiet together.
What did I learn? I learned to see God’s creation again. I learned to wake up remembering that this day will not return. It’s mine to notice, pay attention to, now or never. I learned to detach from the addictive news cycle and from election politics long enough every day to watch the great death-defying act of trees unfolding in this very fall, as they head into winter. I look up and see leaves crying out their colors (red! purple! yellow!) like vendors about to go out of business. To intentionally make space for paying attention to the moment has freed me, at least for a while, to see more clearly that I have power–at least enough power to change the place where I live. Yesterday I signed up to help distribute food at a local food cupboard.