I'll tell you the truth. I didn't want to move here. When Scott and I pulled into Whittier in July of 2009 I thought the same thing many people do. This place is ugly. So many old, broken down boats. Old, chipped sidewalks. Piles of stuff everywhere you look. The Buckner Building for goodness sake! So much concrete in such a small space. So much gray. It was a cloudy day and I wanted out of here. I sat in the living room visiting with a woman I would rarely see again. That living room would later be my own...
Scott talked me into coming back the next day on our own. We looked beyond the gray concrete and a saw a great school playground, a wonderful park in nearby Girdwood, a beautiful walking path to the head of the bay, and so much potential for our family. We bought The Strangest Town in Alaska and being the history nut that I am, I devoured it. We went home and packed boxes and dreamed of what this would mean for our two little girls.
Somewhere along the way, I got excited about this move. I was still wary of this town and what our new life would look like, but I looked forward to it. That first Christmas when Scott had suggestions about what we should get the girls for Christmas I knew we'd done the right thing. Life had slowed down for us and he knew our girls, really knew them.
A few years ago I wrote this post aimed at expressing my heart for this place to visitors. I am sure few of them read it. This is not a travel blog and I don't have a huge following, but writing those words gave voice to so many things I felt (and still feel!) deeply. It's still one of my favorite things I've written.
Today I want to attempt to do a similar thing--express my heart for this place, but this time to people who live here. We celebrate our 7 year Whittier anniversary soon, and in that time we've seen lots of people come and go, and lots of people stay and fall in love with this place. With that in mind, here are a few reasons why I love living in this town:
I have met so many people here who have challenged my thinking and taught me so much about humanity. I never thought about myself as a stereotyper, but if I am honest with myself I was. Probably still am, but I am more conscious of it now. Before Whittier it was easy to surround myself with people who looked, lived, and acted just like me. In a large community that's an easy thing to do. In a smaller place it is harder and I am so glad I learned that lesson because guess what...mine is not the only nor the best way! People I never would have come into contact with before have taught me that everyone has something to offer. Those with the fewest material goods who are living a life that looks much different than mine are often the most generous. They are the people who never walk by you without saying hello, who always talk to your kids, who volunteer to pick up trash, mow the city park, make a city-wide party happen, give fishing rods to kids, show up at every school event and donate their last $50 to buy every kid in school an ice cream cone. There is nothing like riding in an elevator with small kids to help you find the good in everyone. "Who's that, Mommy?" Instead of repeating the crap that goes around town about people, you find another way to identify that person--s/he's not the xyz that people often say, now to your family s/he's "the person with a brown dog who brought hot cocoa to everyone at the skating party". When we define people by their kind deeds, we change the way we think about them. They become more human to us, harder to marginalize and a bigger part of our community. The people are the thing I love most about this town--so many amazing people with stories that will surprise, shock, amaze, and break your heart over and over again.
This place does community like no other place I know of. People show up for others when they are in need, hurting, or suffering, but also to celebrate together. We celebrate our weather, our kids successes, good fishing, weddings, babies...all the things other people celebrate too. What makes it unique here is the people. See above. They all come. They bring what they have, fill plates for each other at potlucks, hula hoop with the kids, donate their time to set up and clean up and care. That's what community is to me--one of Webster's definitions is "joint ownership or participation"--people here do that. They take ownership of this place and they show up for it and its people.
We have amazing kids here! I think I was a pretty decent teenager, but I wasn't volunteering to help other people carry their mail, groceries, and trash. I did what I was told, but I didn't offer to stay after school to help set up for events and stay even later to clean up afterwards. I didn't spend my free time practicing for church performances and I never made my own foods to take to potluck in addition to what my mom made. The more I get to know Whittier kids, the more I have hope for the future of this world. There are some amazing people growing up right now!!
People are always intrigued by the fact that we all live in two large condo buildings, with the vast majority living here in the BTI. They imagine all sorts of things about life here. Are there frustrating moments? YES! Am I ever irritated by my neighbors? YES! But when I lived in a house I was often frustrated (frozen pipes, yard work, continuous home improvement) and irritated by neighbors (barking dogs, fireworks, shooting). There are so many benefits to living here. First of all it's a great equalizer. Everybody's house is essentially the same. But more importantly, it allows us to really know our neighbors and be there when they need help. Likewise they are here to help us. Big or small, it's easy to have people over for dinner and game night, to borrow a cup of sugar, lend an egg, help with childcare. Then there's location--I commute across the street and Scott goes two blocks. That frees up at least an hour a day for each of us, probably more, based on our commutes 7 years ago. That's an hour we get to spend as a family eating dinner, playing cards, being outside, or just watching TV together. For us, the blessings outnumber the drawbacks.
I mean seriously. It is hard to look around and not see what an amazing Creator we serve! I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and not a day goes by that I don't appreciate that. Even on a rainy day the views will take your breath away. Being outside in the middle of God's majesty is so nourishing to my soul. Working up a sweat on a hike is such a gift--it makes me feel truly alive to have my heart pumping hard when I reach the top of a hill and am rewarded with a view like this...
Remember at the beginning of this post when I said I didn't want to move here? I am so glad we did! I am a better person for it. I'm a better wife, mother, friend, and community member because of all I learned. Could I have learned all of this someplace else? Probably. I am so glad though, that Scott encouraged me to look past the gray. That's been a huge lesson for me, looking for beauty. It really is all around us. It's in the natural beauty all around us, in answered prayers, in the success of our friends, the smiles of visitors. It's all around us, wherever we are. We just have to choose to see it.