We live in an amazing state. We don’t have to look far to find breathless landscapes with moose, eagles, and salmon in abundance. Some of us live close to our neighbors while many live some distance from them. Rare is the crowded housing of Las Vegas or Los Angeles where you can reach out your window and touch the home of your neighbor. Despite the distance from our neighbors and the Alaskan desire for independence, we look out for each other. We shovel walks, plow driveways and check in on each other.
I’m in the Air National Guard, and I believe the November 30, 2018 earthquake showed the character of Alaskans. After the earthquake, the State Emergency Command Center was activated. We had personnel in security forces, engineering, and medical fields standing by, ready to rescue our fellow brothers and sisters. We were ready for people trapped in homes and buildings who would need our skill set. We were ready for ugliness to manifest in the looting of damaged buildings or evacuated homes. We were ready any number of contingencies—except the one we encountered: boredom. Statistically speaking, such a quake should have resulted in extensive damage, fires, trapped people, with loss of life; but it never happened. Instead, we heard story after story of neighbor helping neighbor.
Alaska’s record heat has recently brought out this neighborly personality again. Several of my patients are elderly and are on fixed incomes. For many of these “sourdoughs,” the stifling heat takes a heavy toll. They struggle with making meals, sleeping, and running their needed errands to the store, doctor appointments, and such. Again, I heard story after story of friends and neighbors who sought them out to check on them. Rides were given, meals were prepared, fans were loaned and thankfully, heat-related injuries in our state have been minimal. This cadre of selfless Alaskans who were concerned about their brothers and sisters who were possibly at risk rose to the occasion.
Earthquakes and heatwaves are natural disasters that can cause damage, injury, and loss of life. We have been blessed, and I believe part of the blessing stems from this neighborly attention to others in need. In one case, a gentleman who recently moved here from California was attracted by Alaskan friendliness and the beauty of the outdoors. But he forgot to reciprocate that care during the hot weather. Once he saw the forecasted hot spell, he went to the store and bought every fan he could get his hands on. He then went on social media and sold the fans at exorbitant prices. When confronted about his actions, he was unpleasant and combative. The very trait of neighborliness he loved about Alaskans was not one he seemed willing to embrace.
Are we like that when it comes to following the example of Jesus Christ? Do we pick the parts we like and that may be easy to follow but conveniently ignore others? Most of us would never kill or steal from our neighbors, but do we covet what our neighbor has? Do we struggle to keep the Sabbath day holy, use coarse language or take the Lord’s name in vain? Obedience to some commandments may come easily while others challenge us again and again.
I’m reminded of Peter walking on water.“But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (KJV Matthew 14:30-31). For me, the lesson is that Peter had to ask for help. The Lord did not rescue him until he cried out.
We may not be trying to walk on water, but many of us have struggles and hurdles that seem impossible to overcome without the help of the Lord. Yet often, we are too afraid to ask. The Lord teaches in Matthew 6:6 that we can pray in public and in private, and he will hear our heartfelt prayer. But we need to do our part. I hope that we might be like Peter and reach out to the Lord for help to become the better version of ourselves and follow Christ’s example.
John Boston is a local physician, member of the Mat-Su Regional Hospital Board of Trustees, Colonel in the Alaska Air National Guard, father, husband, grandfather, and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.