One of my tasks for the clinic in Metlakatla is recruiting for providers, and once a position is offered and accepted, I follow up with logistics support. That means I answer a million questions about moving, ferries, barges, lodging, transportation, pets, support, etc., etc., etc. By the time the new provider arrives, I feel like we’re old friends.
I haven’t helped with the hiring process for other staff until recently when I was asked to follow up with a new nurse joining the clinic this month. She’s moving up from the mid-west, sight unseen. That alone is enough to get my attention. Moving to Alaska is advanced logistics, a lot more complex than cross country moves in the “lower 48.” Moving to a small remote island in Alaska requires even more attention to detail. Stepping off the edge without a preview…well, that takes a braver spirit than I’ve got.
So, after a few conversations and emails, I was feeling well acquainted with the new nurse. She was scheduled to arrive on Sunday, March 9, and I wasn’t surprised to see her number come up on my phone last Thursday. I figured she was checking in one last time before getting on the ferry on Friday.
The voice on the phone was a little shaky and I could tell something was wrong. I asked her if she was ok, and the immediate response was “No, I’m not doing very well, I need some help!” She was on the edge of tears and obviously distressed. I listened to her story, mind racing about what to do.
She had driven a U-Haul across the country to Washington and was planning to come up to Alaska on the ferry. Furniture, household goods, clothes, mementoes from her mother and grandmother…everything was in the U-Haul. Sometime during the previous night, her vehicle and the U-Haul were stolen from the hotel parking lot. The hotel had a surveillance video of the theft and had filed a report with the police. But she was unsure of her next steps.
We quickly put a plan together. I told her she could certainly delay her start date if she needed to stay in Washington to deal with the theft. She said she preferred to keep her original plans as there was nothing she could do there but wait. At least in Metlakatla she could be working. The clinic had arranged for her to stay in a furnished house, and I knew we could work out a loaner vehicle for her. Still, I was impressed that she wasn’t curled into a fetal position. We made a plan to meet when she arrived in Ketchikan Sunday morning on the Washington ferry. She was bringing her two labs with her, and I offered to pick her up and get her to the Met ferry later that morning.
Sunday…I called this morning to be sure she was off the ferry and pinpoint a meeting place. The voice on the phone sounded positive, upbeat, even excited. I thought the two day trip up from Washington had probably helped…you lose cell service, so you’re unplugged from the world. Probably a good thing in this case.
We met for the first time, got the dogs and baggage in the car, and over coffee and breakfast, I got the next chapter of the story.
Her vehicle and U-Haul had been found, but the vehicle wasn’t drivable. The police still had it when she left on Friday, and she had to sort out the next steps with the insurance company. In the meantime, her story was picked up by the local newspaper. She had a steady stream of visitors at the hotel before she left, with people stopping by to bring her clothes and miscellaneous things to help fill her needs. She had one suitcase after the theft and when I picked her up this morning she had seven bags…six more filled by people trying to help.
The most poignant story she shared was about a gift of money she received. From a reformed thief.
About midnight the day after the theft, she got a call from the hotel front desk staff saying someone was there to see her. She went down and met a woman who told her that her boyfriend was a former thief. When he sees a situation like hers, he tries to help as much as he can. The woman gave her $500 and left. No address, no name for follow up. Just gave the money and left.
There’s something powerful about a story like that.
I’m still absorbing the thought of payback, or is that paying forward? Righting wrongs? Not sure how to label that act of kindness. But something about it seems profound, like being witness to a path to redemption. I wish I could follow that story, but that’s probably the most important part…that no one can follow, the gift was anonymous, an honest attempt to make up in some way for former dishonesty.
The Best Western gave her free lodging.
The ferry service upgraded her.
She had people who realized who she was giving her notes, offers of help in multiple ways. A link to her story went out to the clinic staff in Metlakatla on Friday. I think the whole community of 1500 people is ready to embrace her.
When I drove up to the Met ferry to offload her things, the crew already knew she was coming and were ready to assist.
One of the nurses at the clinic offered a vehicle for her use.
It’s not even my story, and I’m overwhelmed.
Once again, I see that for all the sad and terrible things in the world, there are people to help, to care, to comfort. And while no one can replace the things that were lost, maybe the lasting impact will be the generosity and the kindness from strangers, finding compassion when someone is down, offering help when it’s needed. I know I could pick up the paper, or go online, and find stories that would show the ugly side of life. Those are out there too, sadly every day. But for today, I got to see the other side, up close and personal. And I think I’ll sit with this for a while, and savor the good stuff.
The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines. ~ Charles Kuralt