By CHRIS BATES
A choice to connect
It is impossible to overstate the majesty of the Alaskan wilderness. It was mid-August, and we were fly fishing for silver salmon near the borders of Wood-Tikchik State Park. It is the largest and most remote state park in the U.S., at over 1.6 million acres. We would access our fishing spot each day by short hopper flights on a 1969 DeHavilland Beaver six-seater float plane. We fished extremely remote rivers like the Nuyakuk River just north of Bristol Bay, an inlet off of the Bering Sea in southwestern Alaska. On each excursion, we would be anywhere from 50 to 200 miles from the nearest road or sign of civilization.
Although we were with an experienced outfitter, there were only a few issues that could have been potentially life-threatening: loss of communications while on an excursion, mechanical issues with the float plane, or the presence of a female grizzly bear with cubs. We encountered all three.
The light brown momma grizzly and her two cubs crossed an inlet across the river from us early one afternoon. Fortunately, they were more than 100 yards away from us and headed in the opposite direction. The plane’s mechanical issue rendered it unflyable, but was fixed by our knowledgeable guide (safely on the ground) with spare parts that were on hand. While we were out on another day, the radio and weather tracking systems went down and storms were rolling in. That was a significant cause for concern.
We were hundreds of miles from cell phone use, and we had no other way of knowing when or how we could fly back safely. Nobody could reach us or know exactly where we were. Hours later, we were finally able to get enough of a radio connection to find out what we needed from another guide, and eventually returned to the outpost safely. Communication was key to it all.
Now imagine the application of this significant communications breakdown in the present world. If you are reading this in a coffee shop, glance over at someone you don’t know. If you are at home with your spouse, look over at them for a moment. As you read this on your phone while riding down the road with a friend, take a quick look at others passing by. What if you were experiencing a season of life when you really needed them to help guide you? What if you were in a life-threatening situation and could not figure out a way to communicate with rescuers? What if others whom you didn’t know were your key to healing or safety, and you could not understand what they were saying?
Consider for a moment the COVID-impacted, politically and racially divided world around us. Amidst divisiveness and fear, our faulty nature leads us to disconnect from and judge others, and we become self-reliant. Communication breaks down in that we do not listen well, nor do we share solutions or hope with others. It is our human nature. Martin Luther King Jr. told us, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
In the Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11), we (people) had our language confused and were scattered all over the earth. We have been trying to communicate well as people ever since, and today we need to step up and start with the people around us. You and I can powerfully and simply communicate with those around us with surprisingly little effort.
Are we not black or white, or young or elderly, lonely or surrounded, sickly or in need of a healer? Each of us is unique, and our personal choice is what perspective we will practice. There is only one language that crosses all the divides that we so readily see between one another. That language is of hope, of reassurance and of connection. It is a language that is freely given, fully paid for, and available to each and every one of us. It pushes fear out and invites serenity. It is God’s language. The communication is, of course, between God and each of us. We forget in our daily, self-reliant lives that it is also between one another.
So, what will you communicate today? We cannot always control our thoughts or feelings, but we have absolute choice over our actions. Act to communicate. Seek to know Him better, but in this day and time, seek to know each other better. We are, after all, completely different from one another. There are many harsh realities that divide us. We are also, though, His children together. We can choose to connect. See what impact you can have. Challenge yourself just for today, and then get up and do it again tomorrow.
Chris Bates is CEO and co-founder of AgoraEversole a full-service marketing agency in Jackson, and can be reached at Chris@AgoraEversole.com. He and his wife, Stacy, and their children live in Madison.