Our Lady of the Roses in Presale Now

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Lessons from Alaska

 

Last month, I went to Alaska on vacation. Before I went, nerd that I am, I scoped out where we were going and learned some remarkable facts about the state. Alaska has more land mass than the next three largest states of Texas, California and Montana combined. Alaska is so huge, if you superimposed a map of the state onto the center of a map of the continental U.S., Alaska’s Aleutian Islands would fall on San Diego in the west and the state’s eastern islands would reach to Jacksonville, Florida, in the east. Alaska is so far west, portions of its islands are technically in the eastern hemisphere. It has more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes. It is also the least-populated state.

 

Last Christmas, I was given Kristin Hannah’s fantastic novel The Great Alone, which is set in Alaska during the 1970s, and it illustrates how remote the state is, how great the emptiness there is, so much so that it has a sinister aspect. I knew all that going in, but that is nothing compared to experiencing Alaska’s vastness and aloneness in person. We probably visited one percent of Alaska, but for the most part, we saw nothing but mile after mile of mountains and eerie desolation. While talking to residents, several emphasized that to survive an Alaskan winter, you must get into the sunlight and maintain social contact, or you could lose your mind or die.

For the last nearly two years, many of us have been living our own “Great Alone;” we’ve been isolated from one another, and that’s not good as the rising suicide rates and mental health issues have indicated. Many of us have started to venture out, but for others, the world is still a frightening place. I understand that; I used to suffer with anxiety. But I have a greater fear.

 


While we were in Alaska, my husband and I ziplined for the first time at Hoonah. It was billed as the tallest and highest zipline in the world. It sounded like a good idea when I booked it, but when we got there and saw how high up in the mountain the launch site was, I was thinking this may have been a mistake. It was a loooong way down.

We took the 45-minute bus ride up the mountain to the launch site, where we were dropped off to hike about a quarter mile down to the zipline site. On the way, we met a woman who was having some difficulty navigating the steep hill down to the site. We struck up a conversation and learned that she was 76, from rural Massachusetts, traveling alone because her husband had in her words “turned into an old curmudgeon and didn’t want to go anywhere,” and that she’d just had a hip replacement surgery in January. 

 

The Launch Point at Hoonah, Icy Strait Point, Alaska

                                                                        The Zipline

When I expressed that I was a little bit apprehensive about descending from what was equal to the height of the Empire State Building to the ground in 90 seconds at 60 miles an hour, she said not to be afraid, enjoy it. She’d ziplined six times in her life already.

I did enjoy the zipline. In fact, it was the highlight of the trip, and I’ve thought a lot about that woman since. She also told me that during the lockdown, she made 200 quilts for charity and intended to travel as long as she could, saying “I’m running out of time.”

I know life can be scary; it always has been, and it always will be. But you can’t crawl in a hole and hide. That will kill you as well—maybe not physically, but it will kill that spark of life in you. We’re all running out of time. We’re all on the clock, and we don’t know how much time any of us have until the buzzer sounds. So, do what you can, take necessary precautions, evaluate the risks, but get out there and live. We’ve already lost so much; how much more can we afford to lose?

To me, the only scarier thing than dying, is not having lived.

 


This article originally appeared in the October edition of Northern Connection magazine.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Comforter or Killer?

 A few days ago, my four-year-old granddaughter stuck a pompom up her nostril, and it got stuck. This necessitated a trip to her pediatrician, then Children’s Hospital, where after 7.5 hours and an ENT being summoned from another hospital and her being sedated, the offending pompom was removed.

My husband and I were called that evening to babysit her sisters so that she could be taken to the hospital. As the hours slipped by, and I lay sleepless on their couch in the wee hours of the morning, receiving texts on the pompom removal process, I had a lot of time to think about how we react to situations, especially ones where someone is vulnerable. As soon as my granddaughter stuck the pompom up her nose, she knew she’d done something stupid and was panicked and remorseful.

The “pompom episode” occurred during the controversial episode of Simone Biles pulling out of her Olympic gymnastics competition. It seemed that everyone in the media had an opinion on that from understanding to outright vitriol. I don’t follow Simone Biles; I know who she is, but I don’t know enough about her life to opine that she choked or had legitimate reasons for not competing. However, what I do know is that there are some people who pounce when people are down.

Fortunately, for me I come from a loving family who, whenever tragedy strikes or a catastrophe occurs or you stick a pompom up your nose, no matter how stupid you’ve been, you close ranks and support and care for each other. I assumed most people are like that.

I was wrong.

Nearly 40 years ago, my husband’s family suffered the death of someone I liked a lot. During that stressful time, a relative, whom I will call Rhonda for anonymity’s sake, and whom I thought was kind and compassionate, decided to settle an old score with the sister of the deceased, attacking her and telling the bereaved what a lout her brother was, disparaging him in a rant that led to a shouting match and others bursting into tears. All I could liken it to was a scene from the old show Wild Kingdom where a wounded animal lay crippled in the brush and a lion pounced to tear it to pieces. 

Perhaps I was na├»ve; I was only 23 at the time, but nevertheless, I was distraught not only because Rhonda was speaking ill of the dead when he wasn’t even buried but also because how ugly Rhonda revealed her heart to be. She was downright ugly. I never regarded her the same after.

As I lay on the couch trying to catch some sleep, I vowed that I never wanted to be that vicious to the vulnerable. I’m sure my daughter felt like lashing out when my little granddaughter stuffed the pompom up her nose, but what good would it have done?

I hope when calamity strikes that I act as a comforter to the vulnerable and not as a killer.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

I Lost a Dog

 

Around 10 years ago, I wrote a piece for this column called I Love a Dog. The article told of taking care of my daughter and son-in-law’s dog, new puppy Penny, and about how I, as someone who have never had a pet before, was clueless when it came to dogs. As I stated in that article, I did not have pets as a kid because my brother was severely allergic to them, and while I liked dogs, I had never spent much time with them.

Penny, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, was the first dog I ever cared for. I went from someone who gagged when picking up her “presents” left in the yard to poop-picker-upper pro. I learned to sense what she wanted and knew where to look for her if it thundered—hiding in the bathroom behind the toilet. I marveled at how she could collapse her stubby legs and scoot under a bed that had less than a foot clearance. She was such a sweet, gentle pooch, she paved the way for our family getting our first dog, Mickey, three years later.

There was something else I was clueless about when it came to dogs—and that was how sad it is when you lose one.

After 11 years of furry love, Penny left us on June 28. Nearly two years ago, she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on her paw and had surgery to remove it. Although she was advancing in age, she was still the same lovable dog as ever. During the last six months, however, she began to experience these distressing episodes where she got severely sick, falling over and ceasing to eat. Thinking that the cancer had spread, we were warned several times that she may be dying, but she always seemed to rally. However, in June she declined rapidly, and her vet advised that the merciful option was to put dear Penny to sleep.

Fortunately, this allowed everyone who loved her to say goodbye to her, petting her, telling her how much we loved her and giving her belly rubs. I don’t know if she sensed this was the end and wanted to leave us with even more good memories, but on her last day Penny seemed to be infused with energy and spent her waning hours with my daughter’s family doing all the things she loved: fetching balls with the enthusiasm she had when she was younger, snuggling with my daughter during my granddaughters’ nap time, and having a last dinner of her favorite, roast turkey, before my daughter and son-in-law lay on the floor with her as the vet administered the shots and she passed on.

 Penny on her last day.

 

I like to believe that “all dogs go to heaven,” but liking to believe something does not make it so. I am no theologian, so I did a little research on what various faiths believe about what happens to pets after death. A cursory search on the internet, shows that all the major world faiths have no conclusive dogma on what happens to pets when they die.

The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6, however, gives me hope:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

God doesn’t do things randomly or haphazardly. He doesn’t create something simply to abandon it. He cares for it. If God is love and cares for the birds on earth, the creator of all, in my humble and unlearned opinion, will surely want to be surrounded and glorified by all his creation in heaven.

Penny was pure love in a fur coat, and I’m sure God would enjoy her nuzzles in heaven as much as we did here on earth.  We'll miss you sweet Penny.

 

This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of Northern Connection magazine.