On Jan. 1, 2018, I fly out of Juneau without having a return ticket. That had never happened before in the 24 years I have lived in Juneau. When that Alaska Airlines jet takes off, I will be leaving a large chunk of my heart behind. My only regret is that I didn’t know and appreciate Juneau sooner in my residency here.
As a young police officer and detective, I saw the worst one human can do to another, sometimes with victims that are just kids. I found the evil took almost all my attention. I did not pause to see and feel what a great community we have nearly enough.
I finally hit an emotional growth spurt in 2014, when I was 46 years old. I guess I didn’t rush into that. After losing my father I felt an overwhelming urgency to do better work, to be better, because our length of stay is unknown. However long any of us have left, tomorrow we will have one less day than we do today. The 2017 Year of Kindness Initiative lead by JPD stemmed from that sense of urgency.
When I looked for the good in Juneau, I found it every day and everywhere. It was like the town was revealed to me and I saw 98 percent of it was good, kind and beautiful.
There were times I felt a little overwhelmed with the plans I made that followed by my Aug. 31 official retirement. I stayed as a reserve officer to finish the Year of Kindness and do some other fun things like radio broadcasts. I tried to learn to knit. That didn’t work out. The overwhelmed feeling I sometimes had largely came from the fact I committed to being in Juneau without having my own residence.
This is how we got to this point. The run-up to my retirement spanned almost three years. My husband and I, following my father’s death, took over the family farm in Montana. My parents divorced when I was very young but at our request my mother moved to the farm and took loving care of it for years.
My husband, Pat, and I sold our Juneau house, lived on our boat for a while, and in the shuffle I found myself looking to friends and house-sitting for shelter from early August to the end of the year. In staying with half a dozen families for a week or so at a time this fall, trying not to “wear out my welcome,” I know I sometimes woke people up early as hard as I tried to avoid that. I just can’t seem to sleep past 6 a.m. Sometimes, I woke the dog up and the dog did the rest. I would like to issue a blanket apology to the kind people who providing housing. There were also a couple of dropped and broken dishes along the way. Seriously, I hadn’t broken a dish in 15 years … then I started using other people’s dinnerware.
This “houseless” time, so named by a friend of mine, seemed like a massive inconvenience at first but it turned out to be a blessing. OK, I didn’t love the part where I would put five duffle bags in the pickup and move roughly every week, as though there was a warrant for my arrest. However, the frequent moving did teach me sympathy for others with housing uncertainty, people without my resources and options.
Another blessing was that by joining so many families temporarily, I saw how to be a better spouse, handling conflict with humor and grace. I also saw every parent I stayed with struggle with trying to decide if he or she was correcting the kids too much, torn between insisting on adherence to rules and giving kids enough room to make mistakes that would help them learn and grow. I realized it is impossible to know exactly what to do in a parent role which makes me relax with my goddaughters.
I hate to move from Juneau, but as Winnie the Pooh says, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?” I have been very lucky.
• Retired Juneau Police Department Lt. Kris Sell is the instigator of the Year of Kindness.