The adventure of dealing with new things and the heavy workload, coupled with extra duties of cooking, washing and keeping all my household things going, kept me from thinking too much.
However, on one cold November night, after finishing all my lesson preparation, I sat at my little table. At that moment it was as if a door opened in my mind and I suddenly realized that my philosophy of life was not valid.
Yes, I was here to help people, but as I was forcing an entirely foreign system on the Eskimo children, I was actually teaching my students to hate me, to hate white men and to hate school. In reality perhaps it was not that bad, but in my own eyes I was, plainly put, a total failure.
My old inner darkness began to close in as tightly as the darkness the Arctic winter had brought to the sky. I fought against this inner darkness and sought to press on in my teaching, trying to do better, keeping my depression at bay with more work, but to no avail.
Every day was the same: teaching from 8:30 until 4 pm. Then came the scramble to put together sixteen lessons for the next day. Go home, cook supper, do more lesson prep, go to bed, get up early the next morning and do it all over again.
Each morning as I was rising out of sleep into consciousness, everything seemed gray, colorless, heavy. I had no hope, no desire to wake up, no energy to move ahead. It was like living under a blanket of lead. But I would get up and go on anyway. My training as a farmer carried me
At one point I realized that in this crisis of meaning in life, I had three possibilities. I could commit suicide, I could leave the island, or I could find another philosophy of life.
The suicide option was the most attractive: the inner pain and emptiness pushed me very strongly in that direction. It would be a good, quick final solution.
I found out later that there was a high suicide rate among the Eskimos with several factors contributing to it. They, like me, were caught between two cultures; there was a lot of hopelessness about the future; and there was a spiritual oppression on the Island.
The Eskimos were by tradition shamanists, meaning demon worshippers. Several told me later that most of the Eskimos at some point in their lives had an encounter with a demon who would offer them power in exchange for their worship.
One Eskimo said the only way he could handle the spiritual oppression was to drink a lot of water and always carried a jar of it with him. He also said that when he left the island the oppression would lift from him.
This spiritual darkness and oppression were, for sure, one factor in my being pushed towards suicide. And it would also play a part in later difficulties I had.
The Lord, however, was at work, answering the prayers of my little old lady friend back in Seattle and kept me from carrying through on this morbid desire to kill myself. Humanly speaking, what really held me back was the thought of what it would do to my parents, and that it would be my students who would find my body.
The second option, leaving the island, I also rejected. Somehow I knew that this was the most important juncture of my life and to flee from it would be a great mistake.
So I pursued the third option, looking for another philosophy of life. I first asked the principal teacher, Jim, what his philosophy of life was.
“Well,” he said, “Life is like building a stone wall. When you’re gone people will see the wall and say ‘Jim was here.’”
That didn’t seem to be any better than my philosophy. And Jim didn’t seem to be doing all that well in life either, so this idea didn’t carry much weight with me. I had to keep looking.