Several years ago I had a premonition I'd reach the end of the trail in 2002, my 80th year. Subsequent signs and portents seem to underscore that likelihood. For example, what I call "my old gaffer" parking permit expires in 2002. Moreover, shortly after leaving office I dreamed I'd be granted 20 years at our Lake Clark homestead to do penance for whatever sins of omission or commission I may have inflicted. That 20 years is up Monday.
Recent events prompt reflection on that premonition: Paradoxically, though the mind mists, feet falter and vision blurs, my trail's end no longer lies dim over the far horizon. Instead, it looms even closer and in clearer focus as diminishing distance between us accelerates.
But premonitions no longer dismay me. I've had a few that fell flat. Like the dream I once had that during my first solo flight in a certain military aircraft I was going to buy the farm. Yet that flight was uneventful. However, the dream no doubt called forth additional caution and diligence which may have let me spit in fate's eye.
Similarly, I've taken steps which may again grant me reprieve. These include diet, exercise and consumption of bushels of supplements "guaranteed" to extend one's life span a country mile. Accordingly, should I make it to 2003 I'll wager I'll up that span 10 percent.
It is reported those having "near death" experiences regret failing to have conveyed to family and friends how much they were cherished. Upon return from "beyond" it becomes their first order of business.
While I've not yet crossed that threshold, I've stubbed my toe on it a time or two. Hence, before I cross over I want to take care of some unfinished business.
Originally this was to be a letter to only my family. However, so many others have helped enrich my life beyond measure, I owe them as well an expression of gratitude.
Since in the end all that really matters are faith, family and friends, I first want to thank the Good Lord for having grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and hauling me from the dark side into the light of His saving grace. And if faith be nothing more than "an opiate for the unthinking masses" as skeptics scoff, then I thank God for that addiction and the spiritual "high" that came with it. I can but imagine the bleakness of life devoid of faith.
Next, I want to thank my family. First on that list, of course, is Bella who has endured me this year for, can it possibly be, a half century? I thank her for the thousands of meals prepared, bales of laundry washed, acres of beds made, floors vacuumed, gardens tended and multitude of other chores of which I lent too little hand.
But thanks most of all for just being herself: the only women I can possibly imagine spending most of my life with and, I suspect, the only woman willing to do so.
That of the millions upon millions of possible orbits ours should by chance cross still strikes me with wonder. How much less my life would have been had they not. That I should cherish her more with each passing year starkly contrasts with relationships of entirely too many other couples which seem to sour as they ripen.
Bella in my heart's eye remains the beautiful, feisty young girl I first married. And though she's kept me humble by whipping me three games to one in our ongoing Scrabble tournament, I take pride that I somehow managed to induce her to put up with me, despite having subjected her to prolonged absences, slovenly habits and more than twice-told tales.
Next I want to thank all other family members who have helped burnish my life to bedazzling luster.
Lastly, I want to thank all Alaskans for the privilege of governing the finest of all 50 states. For whatever successes I might have had and for failures seemingly largely forgotten, I owe each of you an immense debt of gratitude. You made me look good in spite of myself ... a true "victim" of serendipity.
Hopefully, all of the above will not strike the ear like some discordant "swan song." Instead it was composed to convey the exaltation I feel for being the luckiest man I've ever known, alive or dead.
So don't cry for me, Alaska. Cry for those who have not received the measure of faith, family and friends I've been allotted.
As I say in the closing words of one of my books: "Truly, my cup runneth over. And though that cup may be a bit chipped, cracked and dented, I'd not trade its content for any libation the fates have decanted since time began."
Most truly yours, Jay Hammond, Port Alsworth
Jay Hammond was governor of Alaska from December 1974 to December 1982.
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