Alaska, Where the Path Begins

Years ago, when I was traveling with the Grandmothers’ Council, I found myself in an airport somewhere between Montana and Alaska on a layover.

I remember sitting on the airport’s busy-patterned carpet with my green REI backpack and airport snacks looking up at the faces of three fellow travelers. They were each gifted guides and ceremonial leaders and had come to the Grandmothers’ gathering from their homeplace in Mexico.

I had loved their energy over the week and was both nervous and happy to share the layover time with them. Them sitting in hard airport chairs bending towards my floor seat, we did our best to converse between English and Spanish.

Over our hour together we traded gifts from our home communities, me gifting swan feathers from Alaska and them sharing with me stories of their homeplace and some healing stones.

It was in our final moments together that the gentleman from Mexico (I have since forgotten his name) paused and then said, unexpectedly, “In the native language I speak, alaska is a word.”

The energy in his words made my skin prickle.

He broke down the syllabols and their meanings separate from one another like he was drawing out a math equation. Adding the plus sign to make the full word, he translated the sum of the parts.

“Alaska,” he said, “means ‘where the path begins.'”

I don’t believe I’ve shared this story with anyone before writing it today.

It’s felt precious. This moment, this man’s translated message, and this one phrase somehow confirmed that the hard struggle and breaking open and breaking apart I did over my years in Alaska had some greater sense of importance to my “path.”

I struggled many times as a young adult to find a relationship to life beyond victimhood for the “negative” challenges and praise for the moments that helped me look good. (Can anyone relate?) It was the kind of thinking I was born into. I didn’t know how to understand struggle or dark places besides “bad.”

Opening and growing into a trusting relationship a mystery has taken time. As this process started, only then I could form a felt relationship with my faith and empowered stance in my life’s story.

What are the times that you’ve felt like this, I wonder?

Times where the darkness feels so long? The underworld feels like the only world? The fire too hot yet we keep getting stirred around in the cook-pot of life? Blindfolded by our small mind to the greater magic at work?

If so, may this story be a reminder of the power we hold to embrace all that unfolds as “our life” as our best teacher. The messy. The burnt. The painful. The hidden.

The blessed truth is this.

It is only in the breaking open and breaking apart that the path of the wholehearted human truly begins.