It is our last day in Bethel, and I finally have some time to post a blog. I have generally been getting up at least an hour and a half before my traveling companions, all of whom appear to be “evening people.” For me, morning is best time for thinking, reflection and prayer. For the last ten days my mornings have been spent worrying about the cast of characters for our film. When we arrived last week only a few people had committed to working with us. As we stepped off the plane last week, I was hoping that the 12 months of preparation, the many emails, and the initial visit last August had established just enough of a relationship with folks here to allow them to say “yes” to our request to point a camera at their faces and say “rolling.” One by one they took my calls and said yes and for this especially I am grateful.
I am also grateful for this group of students, for their incredible work ethic and for their willingness to give themselves over to the project. I have often told colleagues back at Creighton that it is impossible to replicate this learning environment in a normal semester class and it is utterly inconceivable online. I experience this as the archetypal Arts and Sciences educational experience, and it reminds me anew why college teaching is such a great privilege.
Two weeks ago I discovered the Yupi’ik word “Ella” – pronounced kind of like “shla”. It means, “weather, land, universe” and, according to some “everything.” As a concept, it sounds strong spiritual tones – especially among the Elders – that evoke in the hearer a sense of the universal connectedness of things and binding presence of spirit. There have been a couple of moments this week when the universe seemed to intervene and add fullness to our efforts to complete this project. Yesterday we interviewed a Yup’ik college student whose voice filled a gaping hole in our footage. Without any prompting from us his personal story flowed out of him, an eloquent streams of words arranging themselves as if on cue around the video images we had already shot, but which had as yet no voice. It was almost like “Ella” was responding to this need, at least it felt so to me. So, I am also grateful too for this new word “Ella” and for the way it has expanded my heart.