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Waqaa from Woolnough

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Living the Distance

The ache is palpable. The soreness resides in my body cavity but it is restless as well as relentless. Sometimes I feel this chronic pain in my chest; at other times I feel it in my gut. It never goes away. Sometimes I get so busy and involved I can pretend I don’t feel it. But it’s there—it’s always there. It may lurk just below awareness awaiting its moment. Then, at the most unexpected times, this hurt explodes into my consciousness, overcoming all other thoughts and feelings.

As a cancer survivor, I thought nothing could be worse. Two years ago, a potentially terminal melanoma forced me to confront my life and relationships. Changes were made. I moved on. Now, this near-permanent state of dis-ease seems worse. Fortunately, a respite is coming soon. Not only that, a permanent remedy is within reach.

I’m not talking about tuberculosis, MS or cataracts. Rather, I’m addressing a self-imposed malady of the soul. This is all about missing my wife—being homesick, heartsick and lovesick. When we talked about a year-long separation this past summer, it was in the future and only theoretical. Now, as I live the distance every day, it has become real.

I grew up in a military family with my dad gone six months or a year on a regular basis. We were lucky; he came home after each tour of duty. But I saw the separation through the eyes of a child and it was always a part of my life. I now have a renewed appreciation for wives (and husbands) whose spouse is sent overseas. No matter how mentally well-prepared one is for the gulf, it is incredibly difficult on an emotional level (some might say spiritual as well).

Some things have improved since the 50’s and 60’s. In the year 2002, there are phone cards with rates as low as three cents a minute and free cell phone calls on the weekend. Thus, the distance is only physical. The daily distress, however, is a constant reminder of how much I care about and rely upon Pamela for her support, encouragement and love.

In essence, this is my Christmas column. Over the past weeks, I’ve tried to share my thoughts and observations. This time, I’m sharing my feelings; they seem appropriate to the season. O. Henry, in The Gift of the Magi, said it better than I. May I recommend that you re-read it—my favorite Christmas story and my favorite love story. It expresses my feelings for Pamela. I hope each of you reading this has someone for whom you would be willing to sell your heirloom gold watch…

Since arriving in Bethel, I’ve been counting down the days until I come home for Christmas and reunite with my wife. I remember when there were 111 days to go (September 8). Today, as I write these words, I’m down to only 25 days until I see Idaho, my house and my precious life-long companion. After that, the rest of the separation (in theory) is all downhill. The Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race is in January and my spring break is in March so I’ll stay busy. Pamela travels to Bethel in April for Camai (the largest native dance festival in Alaska). Then it’s June and I’m back home—and it’s time to make some decisions about the next year. One thing is for certain—whatever we do and wherever it is, we’ll be together—in body and spirit!

I wish each and every one of you the best during this holiday time; good fortune in the New Year; and especially—Peace, Love and Joy.

Alussistuaqegcikina (Yup’ik for Merry Christmas)


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AC Woolnough

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