L’hitraot, T5: Pale Blue Dot

On May 12, 2019, 3 representatives of our Tivnu 5 cohort gave some beautiful remarks at our Siyyum ceremony (graduation/completion). This is one of them!

The Pale Blue Dot

Delivered by Aliza Saunders

When I was cleaning our home few months ago, I found an excerpt from a speech Carl Sagan delivered about the Pale Blue Dot, a photograph of Earth taken from 6 billion kilometers away. This small blue dot that Sagan is referring to is tiny in the grand scheme of the universe, but it’s the place where we all live and care so deeply about. Sagan believes this tininess “underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” While my home in Portland is not the only home I’ve ever known, it has been my whole blue dot for this past year, and it’s been the place where I’ve learned to live more kindly.

Four days a week, I work with people I’ve learned to care about who I wouldn’t necessarily have cared about before–whether that be working the front desk at Street Roots, a street newspaper that employs houseless individuals as vendors to sell the paper, or building tiny homes for formerly houseless people. These folks come from widely different backgrounds from myself–backgrounds fraught with trauma, abuse, loss, and stress. Even though our backgrounds are so different, I’ve been able to create connections with these people and cherish our relationships.

A few weeks ago, holding several unwieldy bags and looking utterly exhausted, a vendor walked through Street Roots’ front doors. This vendor was just released from the hospital after being found uncontrollably shaking by another Street Roots vendor earlier that morning. While in that moment, I couldn’t cure her deep physical pain or fix America’s broken health care system, I could offer her a smile and a safe place for her to go. And that’s exactly what I did. I greeted her by name, brought her bags into the back for storage, and handed her a cup of freshly brewed coffee. A few hours later, as I was closing down the office, this vendor was opening her sleeping bag, setting down her packs, and settling into her home for the evening: the Street Roots doorway. Less than half an hour later, I would be in my air conditioned home while this vendor I’d just had a connection with would be on the sidewalk where I’d last seen her. What I came to realize is that we’re all on this pale blue dot together — with some of us having so much we can give while others have so little.  This huge disparity upsets and even frustrates me.

Seeing this woman truly drained both physically and emotionally propels me to support those on this pale blue dot in the most dire circumstances, as well as create systems to make sure people aren’t in this position in the first place. It’s small yet powerful interactions like these that fuel my motivation to pursue justice in this world.

Before coming to Tivnu, I knew I wanted to create positive social change, but I only had a faint idea of exactly what change I wanted to create and why this change is so crucial. Working directly with houseless folks has given me this answer — because real people like the vendor in the Street Roots doorway, are behind each and every cause I want to fight so hard for. Causes that, I hope, will improve the lives of everyone, specifically the most disadvantaged. Because, in the end, we are all living on this pale blue dot that I cherish so deeply and want to improve for the better.

And Tivnu programming  has helped me learn how to improve this pale blue dot. Through our dozens of educational programs this past year, I’ve been able to delve deeper into these causes in nuanced and complex ways. I’ve learned about the environmental injustices people of color face, the lack of affordable housing in the Portland-metro area, and labor unions fights to earn a living wage. But, I’ve also examined solutions: I’ve learned about community organizing and worked on a campaign to preserve Oregon’s sanctuary state status and built homes from the ground up for formerly houseless individuals, all of which helped me understand my desire to care for and support those living on this pale blue dot who need it most.

I have been on the front lines supporting people this year–witnessing the stress of being unhoused, the frustration, the fights, the uncertainties. And I have also been in the background, witnessing the kindness–a vendor spotting another vendor money to buy papers and a formerly houseless construction worker volunteering at her church’s warming shelter for days when the temperature drops to unbearable degrees. It upsets me to witness all of this, but I’ve also been able to see the beauty in these situations: when people under extreme stress are constantly making connections with and caring for one another. It reminds me that everyone, no matter their so-called place in society, cares about each other. Seeing these positive interactions makes me want to get involved in kindness at the larger systems level, where I will take the passion for these people with me and use what I’ve learned in Tivnu to create this change in communities I care about.

Through these one-on-one connections as well as learning about the larger picture of injustice, I have realized that I truly cherish this pale blue dot and the people living here. And I will spend the rest of my life working to create a more just place that we all call home.