[Guest Post] Leaving Alaska by Abigail Smith

Today’s post is a wonderfully written piece of memoir by Abigail Smith of http://underlinedandbold.blogspot.com/. Grab yourself a mug of coffee and settle down – this girl is brilliant and adventurous, but more importantly, she has HEART.

Leaving Alaska

Photo Credit: Abigail Smith

I got the job.
I would be a seventh grade Alaska Public School teacher at Bethel Regional High School. Benefits, money to pay off student loans, and a chance to use my Bachelor’s degree would only be a couple months away.
After living in Bethel, Alaska for almost ten months, there was confirmation I could stay. The expiration of my initial year-long volunteer contract at a local non-profit, wouldn’t dictate the next place I’d call home. The rural experiences away from my former metropolitan home in Chicago wouldn’t have to end.
Another year of ice fishing, village travel, king salmon, dog sled races, ice roads, and immersion into the Yup’ik Native culture and language would await me.  I would have time to deepen relationships with locals, and remain in an environment that challenged me to move beyond my comfort zone.  Everything was coming together perfectly. My post-grad journey into adulthood was flowing organically without obstruction.
Being my cautious self, I waited the maximum time allotted to commit to the position: two weeks. By day two my “organic flow into adulthood” began to be obstructed by doubt.

Photo Credit: Abigail Smith

Ten months prior to the job offer, I arrived in Bethel as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed recent college graduate, ready to “save the world”.  Intellectually, feminist theory, childhood development, and “peace” studies were still fresh under my belt. Physically, I felt fresh and well rested. I spent the summer jobless, sleeping in beside my Italian born boyfriend, eating pasta, and sauntering over to yoga class whenever I needed a good “stretch”. My skin glowed, a sexy shade of caramel from enjoying lazy sunny days riding my bike and laying on the beach.  Spiritually, overall, I felt optimistic and full.

There was no semblance of that person when I was offered the job. Despite having many new and exciting experiences during my time in Alaska, I was exhausted.  My full-time volunteer placement was at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter. I am passionate about prevention, intervention, and education concerning these topics.  But the demands of doing that work full-time wore on me greatly.
Physically, my caramel glow had faded to a yellowish cream.  I had endured my first Alaska winter: negative temps and a lot of darkness, leaving me fatigued, cold, and pale. The friendships I was forming with locals were nice, yet phone calls from family and friends felt the most fulfilling. The people who knew me best, and often filled up my cup spiritually, were nine and ten hour plane rides away.

Photo Credit: Abigail Smith

My head was swimming with questions. Was I ready to trade one demanding full-time position for another equally demanding job? Was another dark cold winter healthy for my well-being? Did I yearn for a deeper experience in Bethel, or a broader experience in various places?
As more and more questions came to mind, one kept reappearing with a vengeance.
What is most important to me?
To ensure I would answer this question honestly, I consulted numerous resources. I scoured my journals for reflections and revelations. I made lists. I chatted with former volunteers who chose to stay and work in Bethel.  I called and e-mailed friends and family for their thoughts and opinions.
When I looked outside of myself for answers, I was bombarded with mixed messages and a borage of opinions. When I consulted my thoughts in that quiet space right before I would fall asleep each night, the answer always seemed clear.
I craved depth.
I yearned to foster deep interpersonal relationships in my life, relationships that would teach me about love, compassion, and trust. In effect, I could take what I learned from those relationships, and bring those lessons into my everyday interactions with the world.

Photo Credit: Abigail Smith

I called Bethel Regional High School early on a Friday morning.
I rejected the offer.
I rejected a resume building career opportunity. I rejected long hours. I rejected a steady pay check. I rejected the chance to connect with the people of Bethel in a more profound manner.
Instead, I chose to proceed down a different road. My chosen road was paved with opportunities to strengthen my mid-western friendships and family ties.  It was paved with rest, and time to deeply reflect upon my year-long journey into the unfamiliar.  Thus, when another great adventure or project arose, I would have the strength to tackle it with all my heart.
In two months my bags would be packed. I wasn’t sure exactly where I’d be headed. Back home with my parents in Cleveland? Back to Chicago where half of my college friends still lived? To Seattle, where my friend Katy had found a new home?
The answer was unclear.
But I was happy.

Photo Credit: Abigail Smith

Abigail Smith currently lives in Chicago with three roommates off Craigslist. She loves counting onion rings as a daily vegetable serving, showing off her afro, and wearing cardigans. Her favorite children’s book is Where the Wild Things Are. If she had one superhero power, she would fly. Check out her latest adventures and musings at http://underlinedandbold.blogspot.com/.