Story last updated at 8/15/2012 - 1:37 pm
More than 13 years ago, I arrived in Juneau feeling defeated, discouraged, and overwhelmed by how some of choices in early adulthood had turned out.
A bit like a wet puppy, I waited at the airport for my younger brother, Sam, to pick me up in his well-loved truck, and bring me to my new "home." It was a typical Juneau afternoon: grey, drizzly, and so different from the Texas prairie I knew. My dad, an Army vet, had retired in Anchorage, and relocated to Juneau a few years earlier. I had come for a summer visit just the year before, but I was unimpressed, and relieved all that rain was not my problem.
Today, after a divorce, a marriage, four beautiful children, several pets, life changing events, health scares, vacations, a bachelors degree, and innumerable attempts at relocating our family somewhere drier and less costly, I remembered it is the month most of the United States celebrates Pioneer Day. It got me thinking about our little and lesser known pioneering town, nestled in the remote and inexplicable landscape of the Southeast panhandle.
I have to admit as heavy rain drops tap relentlessly on my rooftop, and as I am nursing my children's third set of relatively benign viruses this summer, while facing feelings of resentment towards mother nature and moderate to severe cabin fever; that I have begrudgingly grown closer to what I thought would be a brief detour in life, that I would stop here to mend a broken wing, and then fly off into another beautiful hill country sunset.
It is difficult to explain, and yet I believe many "Juneau-ites" would simply nod their heads in understanding as I attempt to give words to my rather ambiguous feelings about such a place. Somewhere, a few rainy seasons ago, I began a process of surrender. I don't know if I would call it so much a choice, as a survival tactic, but with each "plunk" sound, like a tiny hammer finishing up the details of a piece of driftwood that has been transformed into a beautiful piece of art; I settle into a deeper realization that this town and I are like two old familiar friends. Maybe we didn't start out liking each other, but we have gained a healthy respect and admiration for each other through many hard won victories. We have both accomplished some rather arduous goals despite facing great odds, and many contradicting circumstances; surprising even the most weathered beaten souls with our unexpected resilience and strength.
I am grateful for what I have become in response to this environment. It has sometimes been a very taxing journey, but I can see that it has offered me more of what I needed, but may have not chosen. It has sheltered me from unseen foes and world events, and yet sometimes left me exposed enough to appreciate each square foot of warm dry space. Its people and its bounty have blessed my family and like only an old friend can.
Juneau is different...it can cultivate, if one will allow it, a solid character, an appreciation for the simple and most profound, and it offers an education for its society and individuals about real life: the stuff that matters most, when it matters most.
I am still hoping to one day, "get out." I miss the sun, my body hungers for its life-giving nutrients sooner and with more fever each spring. I long for cheaper travel options, the security of bigger hospitals close by and a greater diversity of choice for my future. But, for now, I am working on my ability to balance all the facets of remaining.
I know that if I am fortunate enough to manage a vacation this year, I will leave excited, but trek home with that sense of anticipation that comes with wondering whether the weather will allow my return; following that profound relief that comes only when the wheels of the jet touch the runway, and I finally can let out my breath. And I will feel a bit surprised by how sentimental I feel, how clean the rain smells, and my sense joy in the distance from all that hustle and bustle, which all whispers to my heart 'I am home.'
So how do I honor such a friend? I choose to embrace that passing moment, and savor it, so that later, when life here seems unbearable, I can pull it out and remind myself of its warmth. The kind of warmth that reminds me of that feeling you get when the coach pats you on the back after game, not because you won, but because he knows both opponents gave it their best. The kind of warmth that comes from the inside and moves outward, from knowing winning isn't what it's about, it's growing, and facing those worthy opponents while keeping your chin up, and playing fair. Not because anybody is watching, but because the challenge has the potential to make you a better person.
We are well matched, Juneau and I. We are both fighting back the encroachment of too much change, while trying to embrace what is best. Wherever I end up in the world, Juneau will have a special place in my heart, like the XtraTuf's that sit right by the front door, and that sometimes that lay hidden under a bride's dress, so she can still have her beachside wedding without ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes; and the breaching whales that catch my breath no matter how many times I see them.
I am not sure when my need to leave blurred into my desire to stay. It's hard to tell, like when your eyes have to adjust on that first sunny day after weeks, even months of rain. Is that joy or is that pain you are feeling? I guess beauty and happiness really are more a matter of a perspective at times, a decision we can make. Thanks Juneau, for helping me to see us both a little more clearly today.
Happy pioneer month, my old friend.