Alaska had always been a life-long dream destination for a poor, inner-city kid like me, so when my wife asked what I really wanted to do for our 25th wedding anniversary, almost eighteen years ago, I jumped at the prospect of making that pipe-dream a “dream come true.”
We packed our bags and with our seven year old daughter responded to my, and Jack London’s, “Call of the Wild.”
Little did I anticipate the deep and profound life-lessons that our anniversary destination vacation would have on me, as a lingering, ever-present, and palpably reverberating effect to this very day!
I am fond of saying that the Grand Canyon, which is truly grand, is but a single grain of sand on a single beach in Alaska. Most people know Minnesota to be the land of “10,000 Lakes,” but I suspect that fewer people know that Alaska is home to over 3,000,000 lakes, a majority of which, these varying-sized bodies of water still remain largely unnamed.
The State of Alaska is really an “alien planet” where microscopic organic life forms live deeply buried within blue glacial ice, where icebergs calf from their glacial mothers when their gestational period is at full-term and where one can travel for days on end seeing not a single human being but only tree upon tree beyond single human measure.
The secrets of Alaska are much too numerous to reveal in any one comprehensive tale but it is in the retelling of one particular tale that I am particularly fixated upon. A proverbial side trip provided my little family and I a grand opportunity to pan for gold
in a commercial area presumably reserved for visitors and tourists to the gold-panning part of the river. With a requisite commitment to getting wet, cold and dirty, there was always a very slight chance that some lucky prospector-for-an-hour would dredge up a fleck or two of the real stuff and then have a tale to tell.
My luck turned quickly to gold as I salvaged a small gold nugget, probably the size of a Jelly Belly bean. A local reporter and camera crew member spied my find and promptly filmed and interviewed the visitor from the “lower 48” who “struck gold.” The reporter inquired what it was like for me to have been so lucky and I replied “it’s been a hoot,” whereupon, the interviewer said something to the effect “that’s a copy for tonight’s show so we’ll lead with that.”
Not particularly impressed with my new-found treasure, I gave the small nugget of gold to my 7 year old with the goal of planning to teach her something about the rewards which accompany commitment to hard work in service of meaningful goals, but to tell
the truth, I became momentarily distracted by a panning opportunity I spied nearby a deserted part of the river where the water seemed wetter, colder, and dirtier.
It was as if the river beckoned me with its siren call and bade me to not tarry for it had alchemy to gift. I was mindful that the market price of gold had gone up substantially during the course of our anniversary vacation and that as a very poor kid from the innercity streets of Chicago in the 50’s, any more Jelly Belly bean-sized nuggets of gold would have done very nicely to recompense me for a lengthy childhood of economic disenfranchisement.
Well, wouldn’t you know, I stepped into the river, tripped and stumbled much further into it, thereby, getting even wetter, colder and dirtier than my earlier successful efforts at prospecting. However, this time I was rewarded with a nugget of gold the size of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Immediately, I knew I would be a very wealthy man.
However, in the very next moment, I experienced an indescribable completeness and serenity which permeated my entire being and I immediately knew, with the immediacy of full knowing, what was necessary that needed to be done. The river had favored me with its precious gift of gold and it was for me to return the gift of its precious favor.
I threw it back without any hesitation!
The moment the nugget of gold flew out of my hand, with arm fully extended, the gold was now within me for “all-time;” my awareness, acceptance and action was “at one;” the meaning, purpose and value of my prospecting experience was “all-one;” The nameless Alaskan river, as the “river of life,” as the river of my life, had gifted me its precious gold. Were I to keep it, wealth would surely follow; return it, and I would forever be rich!
I understood that the “gold” was me and just for me and mine to keep and just for the taking and just so long as I took the right gold and just so long as I returned the gold that was never just really mine to keep! In that instant, it was, as if, medieval alchemy had finally succeeded in transforming a common man into a nugget of gold and, at once, my prospecting days had come to a decisive end.
Except for the times when I search for the delectable sweetness of a Jelly Belly or a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup treat.
Author Note: Dr. Larry B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor
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