Personal Essay: Visiting the Margin

Well, I made it back from the hinterland.  This summer, my family and I had the opportunity to visit America’s last frontier – Alaska.  And it surpassed all my expectations.  Stunning scenery, unhampered wildlife and natural environs that satisfy all one’s senses.  I am grateful for the chance to have explored this corner of our country and certainly highly recommend it go on your travel wish list.

Yet, despite the attraction of nature, it will not surprise any of you that I was just as interested in the people who call the 49th state their home.  Alaskans … who are these people and how the hell did they find themselves migrating so far north? Granted, the art and folklore of native Alaskans saturate the culture but I only met a handful of such folk in person.  We interacted more with those who were born in the lower 48 but somehow found themselves having drifted to the wild of the 49th.  And like all of us, they each had a story behind their journey, many with similar themes.

They tend to be the hardy, rugged type. You know, the individualist.  Maybe even the extremist or the survivalist.  Independence pulses through their bloodstream.  Being separate and a little different – these are their prideful trademarks.  They stand alone and apart, refusing to be engulfed into the mass of the mainland.  In fact, two of the places we visited are inaccessible by road. You want to visit? You gotta find a boat or a plane. Contact will not be made easy in any shape or form.

But before we go all glamourous about such remoteness, it did not take long in our travels to hear the downside.  Being so detached has its costs. Alcoholism and suicide are rampant in Alaska.  Isolation and aloneness are huge factors in the emotional dysfunction of the population at large.  There is something undeniably necessary in the human psyche that needs connection and belonging. That needs to be a part of something bigger than oneself – even in Alaska.

In fact, on a humorous note, on more than one occasion we saw a hand-written sign in a shop that read, “We are not a foreign country. We are part of the United States of America.” Clearly, there was a need to post the sign.  It is necessary to remind visitors that yes, we are a part. We are even a part of you. We belong. We might be hanging out here all alone, way up north, right on the edge, but we really do fit in. And don’t forget it. Don’t be fooled by our aloofness. We like our separateness but we don’t want to be abandoned either.

This strikes me as the same moderation we are all striving for as the Center of Health  … being enough connected while remaining separate, being not too love addicted (boundaryless) nor too walled-off,  being not so close that I am engulfed nor too far that I am ostracized.  In other words, I can be myself and be in community. Having one does not disqualify me from having the other.

I guess Dorothy had it right … there is no place like home. I can venture far … even visit the extremes … but I cannot stay.  Home will keep pulling me back. I just have to be willing to keep listening to that inner wisdom that guides me toward the Center and course corrects when I have strayed too far to the edge.

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