I have always loved that we have different words for our seasons in Alaska. Our words reflect accuracy but with a touch of humor that lightens the fact that we are experiencing something wholly different from our friends in the Lower 48. For me as a kid, the season of “break-up” was all about hoping my boots had no holes to let the icy water run through as I navigated or sometimes purposely encountered large, melting puddles of standing water on the sidewalks, trails, and streets – all the while savoring the crunch of thin sheets of ice as they buckled beneath my feet. At this time of year, with more than 12 hours of daylight, an energy begins to stir encouraging us to do more, get outside more, and stay up longer. And just as we want to do those things, the snow, cold, and ice remind us that the midnight sun and longer summer days are still a long way off – sometimes too long.
Last year at this time we were talking about new words, too. These were not just Alaska words but pandemic words like “blursday,” “shelter in place,” and “hunker down.” Now that almost 40% of Alaskans have received at least one shot of vaccine and the promise that everyone could (and should) get vaccinated is in our grasp (thanks in large part to our amazing tribal healthcare system), I feel like “break-up” is taking on new meaning.
It isn’t just the ice and snow that is melting and breaking, it is also our stamina to do this “pandemic life” much longer. Our emotions are like those thin ice sheets that with one strong step will crack beneath us. We are collectively and individually tired – deep down to the core tired. And, yes, that new light of hope (those 12 hours) energizes us to hug, travel, and connect. But the true gifts of summer’s bounty feel a long way off – too long.
In my search for ways to describe what will carry us through this season to where the light shines, the flowers grow, and we can stretch our arms and feel true relief, I am also searching for ways to describe the collective stamina we need for what lies ahead. To be sure, what is on our horizon is going to require a new level of intensity to do our work.
Every season has an outfit that goes with it – our extra tuffs for “break-up” comes to mind. In this season we also need to wear proudly, without apology, our grit, our grace, and our gratitude.
As Alaskans we literally know grit – not only the kind that comes in the air when the ice and snow melt but the way in which we live our lives in the darkest of times, often just as a part of an ordinary day. In 2021 and likely into 2022, we will have to dig deeper this time and access all of our grittiness to do it. We used our energy stores to get us through 2020, so now it’s time to refill those stores – with a nap, a breath of fresh air, a hug from another vaccinated person, which may be the best hug you ever really got. As staff and board leaders, we have a job to help our teams here. They were already digging so deeply. It’s up to us to find our grit to keep them and us going – we are not there yet.
And as we dig deeper, we need to remember that we are like that thin ice and our emotions are just below the surface. We are grieving personally and collectively at many levels. This grief is also mixed with excitement, anxiety, relief, and anticipation for what comes next. I invite us all to extend grace to each other when we accidently break through the ice and expose our own emotion or trigger one in someone else. Be gentle with each other as we navigate forward.
And gratitude. We made it to another season. Your mission is helping people and this place we call home. You did what was necessary to meet the needs and protect public health. You are part of our collective road to recovery. Gratitude is also about having an abundance mindset, one that invites us to make decisions not just about ourselves or even our teams but about the larger community and world we live in. 2020 brought much economic strife and hard times, but it also brought us more gratitude and abundance. We showed up for each other in the physical and economic disasters. We showed up for each other through our philanthropic gifts and our kindness. We keep showing up. Of course, this is layered within a context that is the opposite, too. As a self-described optimistic realist, I see the hateful acts against our fellow humans, the acts of systemic oppression powered by lies that weave division in and out of our day. But even in this, I am consciously looking for acts of gratitude and kindness, for the acknowledgement of bigger ideas, and for the steps taken beyond oneself. As you stand up against what is broken, I invite you to see with gratitude how we can work together to make this world safer, healthier, and better positioned to thrive.
In this season I am choosing to refill my cup with grit, grace, and gratitude because like you, I am going to need a full cup for what is coming next on top of all that we are still experiencing. We have some big decisions to make – delivering mission in new ways to meet new needs in our communities, returning or not to office spaces, dealing with another wave of virus strains, encouraging everyone to keep each other safe by getting vaccinated, navigating a state budget deficit, experiencing continued political strife, and facing the realities of systemic oppression in every corner of our country. And then there is this…
Alaska is about to receive a lot of money in many streams that could truly do so much good that some of our most ingrained challenges could be solved – forever. If we do it right, there will be safe water in every community, there will be access to broadband for children and elders and the rest of us with equity at the center of that solution. If we do it right, families will come out of poverty and children will have access to safe childcare. If we do it right, fewer people will be hungry. If we do it right, our economies will be stronger because Alaska’s local governments and Alaska’s businesses will be thriving.
We can do this – and nonprofit leaders like you must be at each and every table working across sectors, across politics, across geography, and across turf – and always with abundance. One season will turn to another and another and to navigate them requires our grit, grace, and gratitude to find our way forward together. Now is the time to figure out if you will set the table, be a host, take the lead, or just have a seat – what I know is that we must be there. That is how Alaska will work best – when we work together. That is what it will mean to do it right.