It all happened because I was asked to speak at the Association of Alaska School Boards conference in Anchorage, back in May, and I said yes. Then Covid went crazy again in Alaska, and I figured it would be virtual. Sigh. I mean, Zoom is okay, and it’s very comfortable to sit in my own chair with a dog at my feet and Papa Bob asleep on the couch and give a talk, but not the same as going out, you know? Turns out it was a go, and then I was a tad nervous about leaving home for a million good reasons.
Still, I ripped the Band-Aid and took a ferry and a jet and a cab and stayed in a big hotel and spent a couple of days with 200 people and I didn’t get Covid, because everyone had to be vaccinated and wear masks. It felt great. School boards are full of fine people working hard to do good things, and that in itself is inspiring– and what a time they have had navigating the pandemic. There was a lot of gratitude in that space with those folks. Best of all were the side conversations. I realized those are what I have missed the most.
In the elevator I asked a woman who said hi to me if she was with the school boards– “no, I’m with the nurses” she said. She looked about nineteen and yet was one of the health care professionals that have traveled from down south to help the overworked hospital staffs in Anchorage care for we Alaskans slammed by the virus. Saints among us. Can you imagine volunteering for that duty? Look to the helpers– they are everywhere. Mr. Rogers was right.
At the hotel coffee stand listening to the orders — all those half-caf, Americano, latte, non-fat, mocha whatevers made my heart sing. And everyone was nice to the one woman making all the fancy coffees as the line backed up, and we didn’t mind waiting either because we missed this.
Here’s the thing: no one mentioned the masks that everyone wore without protest, or mandates, vaccines, or the politics of it all. Instead it was: Did you see the flurries? Snow’s on the the way. I love your earrings. You made them? Wow. Nothing and everything was in those brief, happy oh so normal exchanges. The coffee was good, too.
At the Anchorage Museum it was very quiet, and I watched a 20 minute video of an old lady peeling a watermelon. I loved sitting there on the soft bench in the dark gallery immersed in the sounds and sights of this artsy, enlightening, lovely installation. I have time for this now, and I may not have before. I missed museums more than shopping.
Here are the poems I read at the beginning of my talk to the school boards :
— Christy NaMee Eriksen of Juneau for the Rasmuson Foundation holiday card 2019
we are fish people, wood people, the people’s people
we are speak up, speak over the river people
steady ship, meandering beach, mountain peak people.
we have to see it for ourselves kind of people.
we are fixer upper, do it or it doesn’t get done people.
we sing at church, we kiss our wives, we carve with our door open
we wear suits, we wear boots, we are spring clean saturday people.
we are strange but we are no strangers.
happy nalukataq! bingo! amen!
we share our wins, we celebrate.
tree shakers, promise makers
we are believers
at any moment we are
the grandparents and grandchildren of greatness
genius and luck, noble and gathered
we are wayfinding people.
trace the edge of your mother and it will lead you
to a coast. who could truly tell where
you or I begin
or where any of our legends end?
is not a direction, it’s a bond.
we turn towards each other
For the Newly Elected School Board Member
— Marie Tozier of Nome from her book, Anywhere but Here
Welcome to the ancestral land
Of my people. We
Already know you:
Bossy white woman
Owns the world
Rules the school
Wags her finger
In our face
If only we’d listen.
Please Describe How You Became a Writer
–Naomi Shihab Nye of Texas, former Youth Poet Laureate of the United States
Possibly I began writing as a refuge
From our insulting first grade textbook.
Come, Jane, come. Look,Dick, look.
Were there ever duller people in the world?
You had to tell them to look at things?
Why weren’t they looking to begin with?
And to close (after I told some stories about my time on the school board and coaching high school cross country in Haines) I read this one, and for some reason it is in all caps, mainly because I cut and pasted and that’s how it came out, and now it’s time for Papa Bob’s grilled cheese so I can’t transpose it. I’m sorry. It’s really not a shout– more of a prayer. (Wouldn’t it be great if it worked for all the world’s leaders?)
A Blessing For Leaders
-John O’Donohue of Ireland (deceased) from his book, To Bless the Space Between Us
MAY YOU HAVE THE WISDOM AND THE GRACE TO ACT KINDLY,
LEARNING TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN WHAT IS PERSONAL AND WHAT IS NOT.
MAY YOU BE HOSPITABLE TO CRITICISM.
MAY YOU NEVER PUT YOURSELF AT THE CENTRE OF THINGS.
MAY YOU ACT NOT FROM ARROGANCE BUT OUT OF SERVICE.
MAY YOU WORK ON YOURSELF, BUILDING UP AND REFINING THE WAYS OF YOUR MIND.
MAY THOSE WHO WORK FOR YOU KNOW YOU SEE AND RESPECT THEM.
MAY YOU LEARN TO CULTIVATE THE ART OF PRESENCE IN ORDER TO ENGAGE WITH THOSE WHO MEET YOU.
WHEN SOMEONE FAILS OR DISAPPOINTS YOU, MAY THE GRACIOUSNESS WITH WHICH YOU ENGAGE BE THEIR STAIRWAY TO RENEWAL AND REFINEMENT.
MAY YOU TREASURE THE GIFTS OF THE MIND THROUGH READING AND CREATIVE THINKING SO THAT YOU CONTINUE AS A SERVANT OF THE FRONTIER WHERE THE NEW WILL DRAW ITS ENRICHMENT FROM THE OLD,
AND YOU NEVER BECOME A FUNCTIONARY.
MAY YOU KNOW THE WISDOM OF DEEP LISTENING, THE HEALING OF WHOLESOME WORDS, THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE APPRECIATIVE GAZE, THE DECORUM OF HELD DIGNITY, THE SPRINGTIME EDGE OF THE INSIGHT-GENERATING QUESTION.
MAY YOU HAVE A MIND THAT LOVES FRONTIERS
SO THAT YOU CAN EVOKE THE BRIGHT FIELDS THAT LIE BEYOND THE VIEW OF THE REGULAR EYE.
MAY YOU HAVE GOOD FRIENDS TO MIRROR YOUR BLIND SPOTS.
MAY LEADERSHIP BE FOR YOU A TRUE ADVENTURE OF GROWTH.
When I left Anchorage, I stopped over in Juneau to see my daughters and grandchildren, and then flew to visit friends in Tenakee– figuring that my first trip out in 19 months ought include some warm water. I’ll share those magical scenes next time. (Not all of them, especially the warm water ones, since in the Tenakee hot springs nudity is mandatory.)