My mouth was dry as I walked across the wet parking lot to my son's school. He walked beside me, looking as gray as the sky. We just moved here to Anchorage. The closure of our community school in Chistochina, as well as the changing infrastructure of rural Alaska, caused us to make the drastic change from country life to city life. I had underestimated the potential for culture shock, and was sad that my son was not adjusting well. I thought about Mother Mary as I neared the entrance to the Anchorage Christian Schools. She was a familiar source of comfort for me. I asked for her guidance. For peace. My son was counting on me.
We had chosen this school because we were concerned that our child might get lost in the crowd at a large public high school. Plus, he has such a nice way about him. When he was young, Grandma Lena called him Saa, in her Ahtna language class. I asked him what it meant and he pointed to the sky. "See that bright shiny thing up there ... that's me" He said. I thought to myself, "Boy ... Grandma sure got his name right." He was born with eyes as shiny as diamonds. A precious jewel whose shine was entrusted to us. Sometimes I don't feel good enough. Strong enough. It is during these times I call on the ultimate Mother.
When I sat with the dean, she was kind as could be. I conveyed my concerns, and relayed the struggle my son was having. He was not raised in the church, and was not used to some of the ways. I am committed to being in alignment with the message that the great Son came to bring. I am committed to that which is true, and good, and kind. I was so relieved to see kindness in all of the school staffers' eyes.
I have not had the best views of the Christian religion. I wonder when it started? Was it when my friend killed himself and was "damned to hell" (or so I was told one time at bible camp)? Was it when I was a teenaged mother whose milk had dried up from stress. My first born was crying for days, unable to feed well. I asked my neighbor, whom I had seen give testimony in church, for help. I knew they had formula because I had seen them use WIC to purchase it. I asked if I could have some. They charged me seven dollars. I lost faith in the Christian way.
It is ironic, even to me, that I would choose a Christian school for my son. But this place held the funeral for Grandma Katie (Katie John). I looked at these people, who had been badly mistreated by missionaries. I saw them "turn the other cheek" and embrace the good of the Western Christian traditions, and meld it with their own Native ways. My husband and I decided, if it is good enough for Grandma Katie, it is good enough for our family.
A drum hangs above the fireplace in our townhome. It was made in a class taught by a late Elder, the spouse of the Grandmother who called my son a sun. Before we hung it on the wall, I drew a Celtic style cross on it. I did it for my son. For my family. For me. I DO want a closer walk with Thee. I DO want to live that message that the great master came to bring. I want my son to know the way of peace that is at the core of these teachings.
I was so nervous to speak up on behalf of my son. That old feeling of inferiority came up in me. After all, I was in "their" house, not my own. I assumed we would have to take it or leave it. I was prepared to leave it, if "taking it" meant sacrificing my son's integrity. But the dean was a real human being. And she treated us accordingly. To this all I can say is: "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Nekaltani. Thank you, Mother Mary.
Chantelle Pence is a consultant (Copper River Consulting) and new Anchorage community member.
By CHANTELLE PENCE