Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Loneliness and old shoes"

It's a funny thing, loneliness. Well, not really "funny", but...strange, I guess.

How is it that you can feel "lonely" sometimes when you're not alone, and even when you're not really lonely? I don't know, but then there are lots of things I don't know.

One thing I do know about loneliness, as far as it concerns me, is this. There is one particular time when I will always feel lonely; one trigger that will certainly bring it on. If you read the previous post you have a clue.

Living in an environment that is "foreign" (different from what you are otherwise accustomed to) inevitably has an effect. The effect(s) are not neccessarily good or bad, but the effects are there either way.

You may enjoy the weather in your new environment, or you may struggle with it. You may like the food, or it may be an endless challenge. The culture (language, values, etc.) may be something you really appreciate, or it may drive you crazy. Whatever your opinions, the fact that things are different is inescapable. And it's that difference that triggers loneliness; for me at least.

Every year we have several teams that come to our village to minister to local children, teens and even adults. These teams may come from as nearby as Anchorage (a few hundred miles away) or as far away as "the lower 48" (several thousand).

Over the years we've had good teams and bad teams, some we know very well, some who are complete strangers, some we really enjoy, some who are a pain in the neck. Yet they all have one thing in common. They are people I can relate to. They are racially and culturally similar to me. They talk like me ("well, you know, I'm from California, so it's like, they don't always talk like me, but you know what I'm sayin'"), they look like me (yeah, I know, too bad for them), and they think like me (sort of).

We have enough common denominators that we connect; and I connect with them on a very different level than I do with people here. Even the way I speak/converse changes as I unconsciously shift from "village talk" to "normal talk"(what was normal for me before I moved here) It's a return to the familiar, like coming home after having spent a week in motels. It's brief, but it's a return none the less.

For a day, or two, perhaps even a week, I settle in to the familiar. I quickly feel more at home with the visitors than I do with the people I've lived with for 14 years. For a time.

Then they leave.

I take them up to the airstrip, they get on a plane, and they fly away. They return to their lives filled with regular jobs, family, church, Starbucks, McDonalds, and all the rest. I stay here.

It's not that I envy them. It's not even that I want to go with them. Sometimes I may be glad to be rid of them; happy I'm staying here. But with them goes the familiar. It's a bit like throwing away my old, comfortable shoes and having to put on a new pair that are not yet broken in. The difference is the new shoes will never be totally comfortable; they never seem to fit right. Even if I prefer the new ones, the ones I have chosen, the fit is not the same. My old shoes get on the plane and fly away with the visitors, leaving me behind.

And there is the loneliness.

The rub of the new shoes is a constant reminder that I no longer fit. Not that I don't fit here; I don't really fit anywhere (see previous posts, "A Tale of Two Worlds" and "Go to the Ant" / Ducks vs. Ravens), which is, I'm sure, a good thing. Christians are to be travellers, sojourners, looking ahead for a home not of this world. And I'm ok with that.

But until then, until I reach that home, my shoes will never really fit.

Friday, April 18, 2008


More snow. The endless saga of accummulation continues. It's the middle of April; the only worse time for adding on to the pile of white would be...tomorrow...or maybe next week ("No snow in May; please, no snow in May!")

A group of christian highschoolers from the Anchorage area are here for the weekend. They come every spring as an outreach/missions trip to work with our local youth. It's a big deal for them and generates lots of excitement on our end. Any time a couple of plane loads of "white kids" show up it's BIG!

They stay in the school and do lots of activities in the gym; basketball, drama, etc. One of them is 6'7" and everyone likes watching him dunk the ball("Throw it down, big man. Throw it down!"). Mostly I think they come just to visit and talk one-on-one, sharing the hope they have in Christ.

I feel their biggest testimony is communicated just by being here. They fly 350 miles to an isolated community which is racially, culturally, geographically and economically different, at their own expense, to benefit others, most of them people they don't even know. That's my idea of living the Gospel!

The snow is projected to turn into rain, with temps reaching the forties by tomorrow. Hope so. I know this snow has to melt sometime; but when?

One last bit of mindless rambling. Some one, some where, has to eat some shrimp and think of me. For whatever reason, this morning I keep thinking of a Chinese restaraunt in Mexico that serves spicy fried shrimp in their buffet. WOW! Is that some good stuff! And if the idea of a Chinese restaurant in Mexico seems weird, picture the Chinese workers speaking Spanish with the typical Chinese accent. That's how it is. Really it's not any "weirder" than them speaking English, but as an American it seems strange (I wonder if a Mexican visiting the U.S., eating in a Chinese restaurant, would think it strange to hear the Chinese workers speaking English?)

Anyway, enjoy some shrimp for me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The community pool

When you move to a place such as this,(remote, culturally and racially different, different climate, well...basically, everything is different) there are a number of things to "get used to". Some are major obstacles you never get accustomed to (the high rate of alcohol abuse, for example) and some are just curious oddities that perhaps you've never seen before; like kids jumping off the roof.

The first time I saw kids climbing up on a neighbor's roof I was concerned. I knew they weren't up there for any legitimate reason; they were too young to shovel the snow off; but I had no idea what was in store. Then one of them jumped off! Then the rest; all landing in deep snow.

It was quickly apparent this was a strange form of village recreation. How bizzare! Kids climbing to a rooftop determined to leap into space and land in a snowbank, emerging with the appearance of a powdered doughnut. "WHY?" Right there are several things I try hard to avoid, and they did them all for fun? It's a bit like bungee jumping or sky diving (I suppose if the plane was going down, you could make a case for jumping out of it, but to intentionally leap from a plane that is functioning properly, when you could just wait till they land? That's strange!)

So now I'm "used to it". Winters with heavy snowfall mean deep snow around the houses, which in turn means wanna-be bungee jumpers (aka parachutists, hang gliders, Acapulco cliffdivers, etc.) will eventually turn out to enjoy their adrenalin laced activity.

The novices timidly creep up to the edge, fight hard to over-ride all the danger signals their brain is franticly sending, and tenatively slip off into space, proving that gravity is still works. The veterans leave the world of humans at a dead run, going for maximum distance and air-time. They live as a bird for about one second, then rejoin the human race on the ground. "Cannon-balls" and "flips" are the preferred stunts, but I've seen kids just lay out spread eagle and land on their backs. "What would happen if an old sno-go or stump were buried there under the snow?", I mumble to myself aloud, watching them out my kitchen window while I spill my coffee on my shirt. Is this a testimony to individual bravery...or stupidity?...which is it?

Now, after years of de-sensitizing, I just think of roof jumping as an arctic version of the community pool, complete with a high dive.

Friday, April 4, 2008

My brain feels like a sled dog!

It does; like one that just finished running the Iditarod. The big marathon type endurance race is over. A couple of weeks of focused, intensive labor is finished. Now I just want to rest; "veg up" for a day or two. I wish my tired noggin' could lay in the straw like an old dog and have some one come by now and then to throw it a treat.

The "race" just finished was writing a grant proposal, to fund drug and alcohol prevention stuff here in the village. Not only was it pretty intensive as far as mentally conceptualizing (pretty cool if I got that word right) and communicating the proposed program, but I basically had to learn what I was doing first. They (the State) wanted assessments, surveys and evaluations about things like "community readiness", "evaluation measures" ("Outcome" AND "Process", mind you), "IOM" categories, "evidence-based practices", and who knows what else (well, I guess I should know what else, but my brain is half asleep in the straw by now).

The glorious proposal now sits in the post office, waiting for the "winter storm warning" conditions to subside; allowing planes to fly and mail to move. As a side note, it's interesting to consider the now obsolete "mail must go through" slogan of generations past. In this village there are still elders living who remember when mail was carried by dog team. The current weather conditions which halt the high-tech aircraft would never have stopped the time-tested dog team. They just plowed along through anything; sixty below (which keeps aircraft grounded), freezing rain (grounded, again), gale-force winds (same thing) blinding fog (same thing). Back in the day, it was hard to keep a good husky down. (Yeah, yeah, I know; who wants their mail to travel at "dog-speed" in the age of the inter-net?)

Where was I before I jumped up on my canine soapbox? Oh! The proposal sits in the P.O. waiting. Hopefully it gets to Juneau before the deadline. We mailed it "express" but around here that's a relative term. The postmaster didn't even want to accept it because the weather was questionable. (Imagine going in to your post office to mail something express and the guy behind the counter throws a squinty eye out the window and says something like "Hmmmm. I don't know. It looks pretty bum out there. It might not go out today. Bring it back tomorrow" Sure! That's a great idea. I want to mail it express today so I'll just wait until tomorrow. Whatever.

Hope it goes out. Hope the proposal gets funded. Hope I can get my brain back out of the straw....sometime. Maybe I'll just be like the Post Office and try it again tomorrow.