Life at times, to me, can seem like an overwhelming and chaotic storyline, spinning round and round so fast that it overlooks even the most outstanding people in this world. Astronomer Carl Sagan famously wrote about Earth, or the “pale blue dot,” saying:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it 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.
As a self-proclaimed junior astronomer myself, I cannot ignore the beauty in which he describes our world. Yet as the President of Arrive, this amazing organization made possible by people like yourself, creating positive change on this pale blue dot is the goal. I now share one of my favorite short stories; I still cannot tell if it contradicts or confirms Carl Sagan’s description of our earth.
The Star Thrower, by Loren C. Eisely, 1969
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, so he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean. He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man. To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference! ”At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one!”
The Star Thrower, to this day, resonates deep within me. It reminds me about the difference we have the ability to create, when I sometimes think about how vast our earth is. It provides authenticity to our work, the kids’ horrific plight through life, their unbound resilience and how we have empowered them to make a new start. By far the most rewarding aspect of my job is to see the kids thrive because of Arrive, simply for their own sake. I didn’t start arrive to be thanked, but seeing their gratefulness only proves that Arrive was not started by coincidence. After presenting short stories by Carl Sagan and Loren C. Eisely, I now turn toward Arrive’s very own Enock, his story, and his letter.
Enock lived homeless in the streets for seven full years. While he doesn’t know his age, we estimate that he was forced to the streets to due poverty, starvation, and abuse at the age of 7 years old, when he learned to survive by fighting, stealing, and lying. His best friend was the bottle from which he huffed toxic glue. Since living with us, his entire life has changed. It was clear from the beginning that Enock had a special type of motivation, one fueled by years of turmoil, to succeed. As one of the first 15 street boys Arrive rescued over two years ago, Enock continues to thrive in all aspects of life. He is sober; he is the third best student in his seventh grade class (when he first came, he was the 21st best student out of 22); he is happy. Only one thing has remained the same – his nickname.
At home, everyone has a nickname. If you came to rural Nyaturubo, Kenya asking for Brian, people would look at you funny. My name is Mnati (mu-NA-tee), which means “Rasta Man.” (I received this nickname two years ago, when, while learning Swahili, I asked the kids for a “cooler” way to say hello besides the basic ‘Habari yako?’ [How are you?]. They told me to say ‘Niaje Mnati,’ meaning ‘What’s up Rasta?’ I began to say this so often, to every person who I met, that my nickname became Mnati). Enock’s nickname has a long history, and while I asked him if the nickname brought with it bad memories, he said no. He is proud of how far he has come and progressed, so the nickname remains. For years in the streets, and now at home, he is called “Tano Tano,” which in Swahili means “Five Five.” This is because when living on the streets, Enock was known for only begging for five shillings (the equivalent of five cents). Never ten shillings, or maybe food, or maybe drugs. He only ever asked for five shillings, resulting in his name “Tano Tano.”
Enock and I have shared many thoughts and stories. Once, I asked him how many people he has seen die. Not dead, but how many people he has seen in the act of dying. I stopped him when he was recounting the sixth person because I did not want to hear more. He has told me stories that are too graphic to write on this blog, from sexual abuse to murder, from stealing to all other aspects of life he was forced to endure on the streets. On the streets, Enock could not read or write. He spoke no English. That was less than three years ago. Now, read and appreciate this letter he recently wrote to me, unsolicited, and 100% on his own without asking a single person for help:
If you cannot read it, it says [edited]:
My Blessings, August 31 2015
I thank God for saving my life from the day I was born. But I thank Brian, Pastor, and Madam, because they saved my life from town [the streets] when I was smoking bhang [opium], cigarettes, and smelling glue. But you brought me to your home. I thank God because you gave me clothes, food, and you brought me to school. When I was in town I didn’t know how to read. But now I know how to read and write. I know that from the day I came here I have made many mistakes but from now I am going to stop it. Some of My Blessings: 1. Good house 2. Good food 3. Good clothes 4. Good beds 5. Animals like dogs, cows, pigs, and rabbits 6. Television 7. Good environment 8. Green grass 9. Bicycle and motorcycle 10. Good church 11. Good school, I know how to read and write
This letter speaks volumes. Not only did he write it, which he couldn’t do a short time ago, in English, a language he didn’t know a short time ago, but it shows his extreme gratitude toward and appreciation for our work (although he did forget to mention his amazingly generous sponsor and pen-pal from California, he is most excited when he receives a letter addressed to him coming from the USA). Enock’s dream is to work with animals and be a veterinarian – a goal he can surely accomplish thanks to his work ethic, thankfulness, and ability to draw motivation from his past experiences. Arrive is proud to help him along the way.
Enock is just one example of the many that Arrive has helped. Sometimes I feel discouraged that we can’t help every street kid, every widowed mother, every orphan. But on this pale blue dot we call Earth, both Loren C. Eisely and Enock “Tano Tano” remind me that for every single person we help, “it made a difference for that one!”