There is a line in the old TV show, Will and Grace, that I’ve always loved and thought should be heard by every Alaskan who has left their familiar world to search for their own truth here.
“There’s the family you are born into and the family you choose.”
A lot of us here in Alaska come from elsewhere. And if you live in Alaska, elsewhere is always far away. So we gather around us people who become our chosen family to fill in the gaps caused by the absence of our birth family. Sometimes we find out that our chosen family is a lot easier to be around during the holidays and a lot easier to handle all year than our birth family. Turns out that absence plus distance does make the heart grow fonder but the visits no easier.
I’ve been in Alaska a long time. My chosen family is pretty much closer to me than my birth family by now. I met the wife when she was just a little girl. I’ve known her and her husband since they first met. And I was thrilled and blessed to be able to hold their daughter when she first arrived. I actually got to be in the room when their daughter gave birth to her son. I was his mom’s fairy godmother. Now I’m her son’s fairy great godmother. If that’s not a family that I belong to, then I don’t know what is.
For many of us, when we first move to Alaska, our energy is put into maintaining those faraway ties to our birth family. We can’t imagine any other family feeling so easy and good and loving to us. So we pack up, fight the holiday crowds at airports and endure the questions about whether Eskimos really eat whale blubber in order to spend the holidays with them. Then, if we are very lucky, we find a new family here. Doesn’t mean our birth family isn’t still special to us. Rather it means that we have been lucky enough to belong to two amazing families – one of whom is not an airplane ride away.
It’s not just a new family that we acquire when we move here from there. We also amass a crowd of wonderful friends who are there for us when we need them. Those friends took care of me, my animals and my home when I was so sick this summer. Friends showed up to help from Fairbanks, Barrow, Anchorage and New Jersey. I don’t know about you, but I consider that very, very special. I wasn’t the easiest person to live with after my heart attack. I’ll never be easy when I am not on my own. But that did not deter people from putting up with me. As horrible as that period was, I’ve never felt so lucky and loved.
Since I am not a holiday person, big time not a holiday person, I am pretty miserable from Thanksgiving through the new year. Despite the close friends and family, I live in fear I will be invited someplace decorated as if Christmas threw up all over it. I’ll have to pretend I like green and red and gold everything scattered everywhere. So I always tell people who offer me an invite that I’ve already accepted a different friend’s invite. Then I frantically call that friend and tell them what I did so if questioned, they’ll say I was with them.
If you live here in Alaska and don’t feel surrounded by love and the people you love, if you feel lonely and isolated at the holidays, trust me that somewhere out there in the howling Alaska wilderness there are friends and family just waiting to meet you. I met my family in Barrow and my friends at Bird TLC. So if you don’t live in a remote village, perhaps finding an interest you share here in Anchorage will bring friends pouring into your life. Whether it’s knitting, animal rescue, music, writing or sports, there is a group in Anchorage that will be happy to welcome you. And once they do, you’ll make friends the likes of which you never imagined you’d have – they might even eventually become family and invite you to a holiday dinner. Pray they keep their decorations to a minimum.
Happy holidays. Please don’t bring decorations to my house.