Intersection of Lives

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Perspective is essential when working with individuals who have lived very different lives than you have lived. It’s also important to remember that not everyone has had access to the same opportunities as you.

For instance, one of our community members here at the hospitality house accompanied me on some errands I ran for Love Wins. I asked if I could pick his brain about keeping life in perspective, not letting the little things get to you, and appreciating life in its entirety.

He told me stories about his youth, traveling across Europe, love, loss, his struggle to find dependable housing, and his spirituality. I took something very valuable away from this conversation that he briefly mentioned. “It is okay to reboot,” he said. “It’s okay to unlearn what you have been told and reteach yourself your own truth, and to go and discover what spirituality means to you.”

Lately, I have been torn between friends, struggling to find a comfortable living situation with my current roommates, overwhelmed with school and responsibility, and just being the age that I am and all the confusion that accompanies being 19 years old. I was grateful for the reminder from my friend that everything I’m going through is a learning experience. It is the conversations that I have with community members that helps put things into perspective.

Most of the time, it is the grace with which they approach any situation that is not in their favor that touches me. It’s not the lack of choice they face, but the choice to face the small inconveniences of each day living on the streets without anger that I appreciate.

As my friend from the community and I drove around Raleigh, where he and I have both lived our entire lives, we pointed to different houses, parks, sidewalks, and trees where we both had memories attached to the same places.

He is a 50 year old African American male with an unreliable housing situation. The intersection of our lives humbles me, and shows me that there is always something bigger than whatever I am struggling through. This is what I cherish the most about this job. I’m immersed in what once was just a concept. In this intersection of our lives, there are much more commonalities than there are differences.

Exchanging Gifts, Exchanging Love

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A few mornings ago, I walked into the office to find a Sprite sitting on my desk. Thinking it belonged to someone who’d accidentally left it there, and since I’m generally a water, tea, or coffee drinker, I moved it to the donation sorting conference table. Quite promptly, I forgot all about it.

Hours later when Tommy came for in for an aspirin and to say hello, he sat in the chair across from mine, peering over my shoulder to see what I was working on that day. When a community member so obviously wants to chat, I try to remember that the interruptions are our work, regardless of what might be vying for my attention on my computer screen.

“How’s the baby?” he asked, always curious about my daughter.

I gave him the latest rundown on milestones, the current one being the baby Olympic event of walking. We talked for a few minutes until he noticed the Sprite sitting on the other table.

“Don’t you want this?” he asked, holding the Sprite up over his head, shaking it a little. “I bought it for you!” he exclaimed.

And once again, I was touched by the generosity of this community.

“I had no idea it was for me. Thank you!” I told him, taking the Sprite and putting it in its rightful place (i.e. back on my desk).

Whenever I begin to develop amnesia and fall into the trap of inadvertently thinking we (myself, my co-workers, our supporters, and volunteers) are giving to them (our community members), I am so beyond grateful for and humbled by the reminder that there is no “Other” here. We are a community, and a community is built on and maintained through relationships. We all belong, and we all having something to give and receive from one another.

In an article entitled, “The Psychology of Gift Exchange,” the author states: “Gift giving is a social, cultural and economic experience; a material and social communication exchange that is inherent across human societies and instrumental in maintaining social relationships and expressing feelings.”

By gifting me with a Sprite, Tommy had done more than show me he had been thinking about me and wanted to show it. He was doing his part to cement a social bond, the kind of bond that keeps our community engagement center the uniquely beautiful and hospitable place that it is. It truly is these little things, these moments that keep the spirit of Love Wins alive. When we exchange gifts, we’re really just exchanging love.