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Rachael Novak Speech: "The Somehow"

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This speech was given at the Krista Foundation 10th Anniversary Celebration Breakfast in Spokane, WA on September 30, 2009.

Rachel Novak, an environmental colleague, was nominated originally for her work with AmeriCorps in the Oregon watershed in 2004. A graduate of Oregon State University in Environmental Science and International Relations, Rachel's interest in water led her to research in Ecuador and Bolivia. Her Masters thesis from the University of Arizona focused on climate change and water issues in the Chuska Mountains on the Navaho reservation, the land of her mother's family, where she explored the intersection of traditional knowledge with western science. She presently works with the Environmental Protection Agency as a physical scientist studying the impact of climate change on water quality.  

 

For Navajos on the rez there's a (slang-ish) way of referring to things that just can't be expressed verbally at the moment, the stand-in word is "somehow". Let me give you a few examples: A respectable looking stranger passes by and your friend asks you "who's that?" You may respond, "I don't know, but he must have been someone." Your uncle just left without saying where he was going, your auntie comes in and asks you his whereabouts, you could say, "I don't know, but he must have gone somewhere". And lastly, my favorite, your cousin asks you if you like a certain young man to which you reply, "I don't know, but he makes me feel somehow." A very bright Navajo man described the use of those "some-something" word combinations as our way of describing the immediately ineffable, and even as a reference to the providential.

In general, I find it a challenge to articulate myself satisfactorily, and my general field of work is known for its lack of clarity and certainty in the media: climate change and adaptation of water resources. This was made very apparent to me last month when a friend asked me to visit the elementary school she teaches at in Tucson while I was visiting. She assured me the children were very excited to have a "real scientist" come and talk to them about their water, weather, and climate change units. I had diligently assembled a 40-minute lesson comprised of a powerpoint, engaging questions, and even a song. After my presentation as students were leaving, I heard a..."Miss!" in the crowd. A wide-cheeked 4th grader with even wider excited eyes approached me, "Is it really true the world is gonna end in 2012?" Before waiting for me to respond he added, "Is it from global warming?" This caused me to pause, apparently I had not communicated effectively my intended parting message of personal accountability to the well-being of the environment. All my preparation could not compete with the visual effects from the sensational doomsday cinema genre, including Roland Emmerich's "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Independence Day".

Ambiguity has been a close companion for me over the last decade. From the tail end of my undergraduate years through to the present, I have become more aware of the vagueness in which I find my efforts in work and study. It's a challenge to connect myself with the work in between the exciting birth of an idea and the recognizable end, and I fear getting lost in the middle somewhere in the haze of it all. And most of the time I am somewhere in the middle. Sometimes this can cause me to simply go through the motions of work versus recognizing and acting with intention, bringing meaning and empowerment to what I do, and hopefully clarity. To me, finding and feeling the meaning in the mundane is like recognizing the divinity in the everyday.

For me, the colleagues I have had the privilege to know from the Krista Foundation inspire in me a resolve to connect the divine, the somehow with everyday acts. The Foundation brings together a group of amazing young people who serve as an extension and expression of their faith. And over the last 5 years, I have seen that this extends beyond their year or two of service, it permeates their lives. I was blown away by my first year as a Krista Colleague. I still have vivid memories people like Katie Villano, an unwitting force of nature who used her Krista grant to buy a publishing tools to give voice to the homeless community of Tacoma, and Hector Herrera a methodical and compassionate thinker with a keen gift of discerning others' pain and needs as demonstrated in his vignette on "being able to hold the dark", or carrying one another's burdens, also, Moses Pulei, a Kenyan man with a powerfully tenacious presence (also on the Foundation's Board) inspired us to be what he termed "a Saturday people", those striving to live in the space between the pain of Good Friday and joy of Easter to better serve the world and Creator. Sergio Castaneda who grew up in a migrant farm worker family connected me to my food one evening while we were commenting on the general deliciousness of the asparagus at dinner. He said, "I hated picking this stuff when I was a kid," expressing a reality I know little about. This changed the taste of the food that night, somehow transforming it from a nutritional but inanimate object to a dynamic story linking me with my colleague in a larger critical issue with tremendous cultural relevance.

The somehow is a way of describing that which is hard to describe, but it is also the key to getting through the ambiguous haze when it refers to the sacred dimension of life. More often than not I fail to recognize the alignment of the somehows that happen for me and it's moments like these and interaction with people who see the somehow in the mundane that help me return to heightened awareness, whether or not I can articulate it.

This is really for me what the Krista Foundation is about. My Krista Colleagues get it, they connect the somehow, the divine, with the seemingly mundane daily chores of service or daily life, serving with intention that makes our efforts more than they were before. This somehow keeps them going through the mundane or the ambiguous. This inspiration keeps returning me to the realization that I need, that in reality, everything I do can be made sacred, and sometimes already is, if I just stop and see the somehow.


Rachael Novak

Click here to read Rachael's Article in Volume 3 of The Global Citizen journal.

Click here to read Rachael's Article in Volume 2 of The Global Citizen journal.

Link to Sinead's speech.

Link to Nathan's speech.