Friday, March 27, 2009

I Wouldn't Have Missed It for the World

This story has no knitting content, but it's how I spent my morning today, and in my opinion, an important story to be told. It's a bit long and drawn out, so you may want a refreshing beverage before you begin to read.

This story begins in 1992. I was the clinical manager at the time for the largest private Ob-Gyn practice in Anchorage. We had a new patient, 41 year old Eva, who was pregnant with her first (and only) child. Due to her age, she was immediately placed on the 'Hi-Risk" list and part of my job was to follow these patients closely to assure that none of their appointments were missed or labs fell through the cracks etc.

Eva had other plans. She most certainly DID NOT consider herself high-risk. She had been a midwife in Sweden, her country of birth, and had worked most recently as a flight nurse accompanying travelers with health concerns to destinations around the world. This job brought her to Anchorage on more than one occasion which is how she met "Jim", the father of her child and soon to be her husband. Eva declined amniocentesis and a host of other "routine high risk" labs, an accelerated appointment schedule, etc. She happily set up housekeeping in the Mat-Su Valley while Jim ran the auto repair shop in Anchorage. She was intelligent, interesting, funny, and we soon became friendly through the multiple phone calls I was required to make to her to document her declination of services. When she came to appointments, we would have tea in my office and enjoy the conversation of our beginning friendship.

She and Jim married, but just a few months later, when Eva was around 5 months pregnant, disaster struck. Jim had a major heart attack. He was flown to a hospital in California, but died despite the best surgical efforts available at the time. A heartbroken Eva returned to try and put the pieces back together, close up the auto shop, and await the birth of their daughter. We became much closer during this timeframe and she shared her fears and dreams with me as she had not yet made many friends in Alaska. My own daughter was less than a year old, and we talked a great deal about motherhood. She shared her fears about being a single parent in a foreign country, and her indecisiveness at the time about what she would do next.

Easter came, and Eva spent the day with us, enjoying my famous "Jack Daniels Roasted Ham".

(Eva, the day before Rachel was born)

She attributes that ham recipe to making her go into labor because sure enough, early the next morning, her contractions began. By late the next day, her beautiful, healthy daughter Rachel was born. About two months later, needing an income for her small family, Eva began to work as a nurse in the L&D department of the hospital she'd given birth in. She and Rachel spent many dinners and weekend barbecues with us.

(Eva and Rachel)

She made new friends and life was settling down for my Swedish friend, until the hospital experienced a budget crisis and decided to lay off registered nurses. Rachel was not yet 5 months old. And Eva, being one of the most recently hired, was one of over 100 nurses who lost their jobs.

Our clinic had recently lost an RN and I offered that job to Eva. She was a hard worker, and the physicians and patients appreciated her candor and sense of humor. Then the government stepped in, and in a most ungracious manner, decided that since Eva had been married to Jim for less than whatever specified time, she would need to return to her country (Sweden) essence, an order for deportation. By this time, Eva had decided to raise her American born daughter as an American. I'd climbed the food chain at the clinic to become Administrative Director, and did what any self respecting friend and employer would do... I called our Senator's office to ask for advice and intervention. Eventually Eva was able to remain in Alaska on a work visa as 'Nursing' was (and still is) listed as a difficult to fill profession. It took a number of letters written, phone calls, official forms filled out...but Eva was able to remain and work in the land she'd come to think of as her home.

(my DD and Eva's Rachel)

Our friendship continued over the next few years, but the frequency of time we spent together decreased to holidays,

(Eva, BFF MaryKay, Me, Jackie J)

then infrequent lunches or coffee. With job changes, and my return to graduate school, we eventually lost track of each other. We would hear of each other through mutual friends and our job circles continued to overlap. Eva eventually worked for the Municipality's STD Clinic, then as one of the RNs for the state's youth correctional facility. Sometimes we would see each other at continuing education programs. I thought of her once in a while, but until about three weeks ago, could honestly not say when I'd last seen her. I had no idea what was going on in her life. Early this month, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face in our hospital cafeteria. "Eva!", I shouted across the line of people. She turned and smiled broadly, rushed to give me a big hug. She had been shopping at our hospital gift shop. We are both lovers of Alaska Native artwork...another thing I'd forgotten over the years.

She told me some wonderful news and we were both a little amazed at how life can bring friends back full circle. She invited me to attend a special event today, and even though my schedule is usually written in stone six weeks in advance, coincidentally, today was already scheduled as a day off. Coincidence? Karma? Who knows? It really doesn't matter.

"You remember that you are the one that started this for me, don't you?" she asked. And I smiled, because honestly, I had forgotten so much in the intervening ten or twelve years.

Despite snow flurries and volcanic eruptions, I drove to the Federal Courthouse in Anchorage.

This morning with tears in my eyes, sentimental slob that I am, I watched my friend Eva,

along with 58 other individuals from 25 different countries take the Oath of Allegience to the United States of America. Her brilliant, beautiful daughter and several work friends were there also to support her. When Eva walked to the podium and said her name and the country she was from, she raised her certificate and said loudly.."My name is Eva -------, I was originally from Sweden, and today I am very proud to say I AM AN AMERICAN"!

First item on the agenda, after photos of course, was Registration to Vote!

After the ceremony, we had lunch at a delightful new restaurant, The Spenard Roadhouse. All American hamburgers, with homemade apple pie (from friend Kathy)for dessert!

Too often, we take our status as Americans for granted. I challenge any of you to attend a 'swearing in' ceremony. Reflecting upon the words of our Pledge of Allegiance, seeing the hope and pride in the eyes of new citizens, it is an amazing reminder of the good fortune to which we are born, the opportunity that is our birthright, the respect for ourselves and our neighbors to which we are beholden. It was a wonderful morning.

Let Freedom Ring!


junior_goddess said...

That kind of dovetails with something I heard today-

Aim said...

What a great story! Thanks for sharing that inspiration :)

KnittySue said... glad you were blessed to see her become an American. After all you held her hand to begin her journey to this event and gain a forever friend in the process. Karma. Thanks for sharing, I love visiting your blog and sharing in your life in Alaska.

Grace said...

I know have goose bumps----since I was having a hot flash when I started reading it Thank YOU!! What a wonderful story! ANd that its all true and real makes it even better

Les said...

Aww, that made me all "blinky".

Anonymous said...

You brought tears to my eyes. Let me tell you, as someone who has taken that Oath, I know first-hand how much native-born americans can take for granted - but somehow this is still the most wonderful country in this world...


Scrabblequeen said...

Great story. I saw the pics on Facebook, but the story is sooo much better than "just" the photos.

Susan said...

I had goose bumps. What a wonderful story. I am so proud to be a born American, but can only imagine my pride at becoming an American as an adult. It's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, Thanks for sharing this wonderful story of Eva and her saga in Alaska! The ceremony related to becoming a US citizen brought tears to my eyes. Yes, we are blessed and blessed to have people like Eva and her daughter!

Anonymous said...

What a great story!!

Gaile said...

Beautifully told. Thank you for sharing this story.

StitchLuva and Yarn said...

what a beautiful story. thank you.

Maura said...

I loved reading this, Lisa..... what a wonderful story! I'm so thankful I stopped by today to read your blog. Yep, tears here also, but those of gratitude and thankfulness to see that things have worked out for Eva.

And to see that at least once in a while, our immigration system work as it was designed. :)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful, beautiful post! The friendship of you two is extra special.