Even in Alaska, a new sense of what it means to be American
HAINES, ALASKA — Alaskans who usually distance themselves from the lower forty-eight are doing everything they can to stand beside their fellow countrymen. We are all mothers, fathers, sons and daughters and are weeping for what has happened to innocent Americans, just like us.
Above all, there is a sense of being truly part of the United States; something that this giant, independent northern placed doesn't usually feel. Alaskans who often revile big cities and aggressive New Yorkers now love them. We point with pride to the Mayor on the scene directing the recovery effort in his NYPD cap. He looks so Alaskan.
In Haines, there was a community prayer service on the day of the attacks. People who go to church, and people who don't, prayed for peace, wisdom, justice and courage. We asked God to comfort the grieving families and tired rescue workers. After the final benediction, we sang the Star Spangled Banner with very different hearts than we do before home high school basketball games.
Thursday the Chamber of Commerce held a meeting to hear from candidates for local elections. One of the mayoral contenders used his five minutes to read an editorial from a Canadian newspaper praising America's goodness.
When the FAA grounded all planes, Haines was cut off from the outside world. Much of Alaska is roadless. Across the state hunters and campers in the bush missed their scheduled pick-ups, and didn't know why. Seven local river rafters were stranded on a sand bar waiting to fly home all week. 40 miles north of here, at the Canadian border, a smile and wave won't get you into the Yukon anymore. You'll need a passport and birth certificate.
Along with my neighbors, I got out my Fourth of July flag and displayed it. As one fisherman said, "I have never been a flag waver before but all that has changed." There are not as many flags on our streets as in the towns we see on television, because the few for sale have all been bought. However, we are displaying our patriotism in other ways. Friday morning the school students and staff dressed in red, white and blue.
More special church services and community gatherings are planned for the days ahead. The librarian made a display of books on grieving and loss and is reminding everyone that the library has Internet stations and will be getting national newspapers as soon as the mail planes bring them in.
For now, the mood in Haines is both solemn and confident. We are solidly behind a president many of us didn't vote for and, waving flags with the rest of America that we usually call "Outside" to separate it from us.
Mostly though, we are waiting and wondering what will happen next.