09 Mar Essential Laughter
This blog post was written by Hannah Saiger from New York City, one of multiple Hannahs in the Tivnu 7 cohort. She enjoys oil painting, hiking, running, eating potatoes, and lying on the floor. She interns at Kindness Farm and Tivnu Construction.
Last week, during our lunch break, my friend Emma and I laid on the ground and spent a full twenty minutes eating one single chocolate chip granola bar. We dissected it into tiny pieces, and slowly fed each other globs of oats, making sure to comment on the chocolate chip content of each one. We found this activity hilarious. I only stopped laughing to chew, swallow, and sometimes to breathe. After finishing the bar, and realizing the ridiculous amount of time we had spent in consuming it, we returned to our seats and continued our work for our social justice internships.
Past Tivnu cohorts have spent most workdays scattered across Portland, working for various non-profits in person, and returning home to the Tivnu batim (houses) in the afternoon. This year, because of Covid, most of us spend multiple days a week doing remote work for these internships in a very generously-lent workspace at Augustana Lutheran Church, a local church committed to diversity and social justice. This means that instead of just hearing about workdays in the evenings over dinner, we experience them together. My fellow Tivnu participants are not only my friends and my housemates, but also my coworkers.
Although it is disappointing that we cannot be at our internships in person, my remote experience has been enhanced so much by the lovely people around me; sharing a workspace allows us to learn from each other and spend time together. We have serious discussions and learn from each others’ experiences with various non-profits, but also take breaks together, where we often do ridiculous things such as granola bar dissection.
Because we are all in the same space, I overhear my friend Sophie’s calls to victims of assault in Multnomah County to offer them resources and education on their rights. I overhear my friend Bella’s interactions with coworkers as she navigates Innovation Law Lab’s databases to help provide refugees and asylum seekers with legal services. It is exciting to witness the serious work that everyone around me is doing as we all teach each other the things we are learning. Bella taught me that asylum seekers can only apply for a work permit a year and a half after entering the country, making it difficult for them to work legally and succeed. Sophie taught me that victims of assault have the right to be notified when their offenders’ parole statuses change, but that most victims are unaware of their rights.
Once during a lunch break, I went to retrieve my food from the fridge. I returned to the main room to find Bella and Sophie doing ‘airplane’: Bella suspending Sophie in the air with her legs as Sophie gracefully opened her arms and ‘flew.’ My reactions were first to be impressed by Bella’s leg strength, second to be amazed by Sophie’s balance, and third to laugh at them. The toppling of the now often repeated ‘airplane’ activity leads to more laughing people, a moment of emotional release. We have learned to move quickly between serious conversation and giggling on the floor, and I’ve realized that a work day would not be complete without both of these elements. Laughter gives us energy to do our work and engage in our serious conversations.
When I hear about my fellow Tivnuniks’ work, I am inspired. At the same time, the work isn’t easy. We are privileged that our experience of injustice is mostly second-hand, but it can still be discouraging. Bella is helping so many people access legal services, but it is distressing to realize the systemic discrimination that makes it nearly impossible for refugees and asylum seekers to find safety and security. Sophie is providing many resources to victims of assault, but it is still upsetting that victims do not already have these resources, and that there are not victims services like Multnomah County’s in other places.
I spent my first semester at Tivnu working for an organization called Outgrowing Hunger that provides weekly food boxes to low income families, predominantly immigrants and refugees. The organization also organizes multiple community gardens in the Portland area, where these families are encouraged to grow their own food. It is exciting to help coordinate nourishment for people and to hear about how much they enjoy their garden plots, but the need for these services reminds me about how many people in the world are hungry, and how few people have access to fresh produce.
When so much of what we learn is disheartening, it is often hard to see our impact. At Augustana, we often discuss the significance of our work: Is policy change or direct service towards communities more effective? Are we really making a difference? Although these conversations keep coming up, I usually conclude that both policy change and direct service are important, and that my work makes a small difference in the lives of a small number of people. Sometimes this is inspiring, but sometimes it is still upsetting that I cannot do more.
So when someone makes a funny face or an odd noise at me from across the room, my laughter provides a release. When my friend Maddie brought an entire wagon of food to the church for lunch, I couldn’t not laugh at the ridiculous image in front of me. Maddie took the lunch break to prepare a complex and unique smoothie with the blender she had wagoned over, (ingredients included vanilla ice cream, cayenne pepper, ginger, and cherry yogurt) while our friend Leo sat across from her calmly eating completely plain pasta out of a marinara sauce jar. Many cuddling sessions have taken place during breaks on the maroon Augustana carpet, and none have occurred without a little silliness and laughter. There is so much injustice to fight, but that does not mean that we cannot take the time to laugh. Actually, I think it means that we must take time to laugh. Because we cannot fix everything, we need to fuel ourselves to do what we can. Every ridiculous moment at the church fuels me; the laughter is energizing. Working around such thoughtful, inspiring, funny people creates many moments of laughter, each one allowing me to return to my work with a little more passion, with a little more joy… After I take a few more minutes to finish my granola bar.