Every other month Reno Friends (the Quaker Meeting I attend), serves dinner to the homeless and hungry living on the streets of Reno. We each prepare food and then help to serve it. I bring my homemade bread, which often brings smiles and sometimes the sharing of a memory about the last time they had homemade bread. Often this is a distant childhood memory from a home long gone.
As each person comes by, I offer them a slice and a smile. Sometimes I compliment them on something they are wearing that shows their personality and style. I’ve seen people from every demographic group come through the line. I realize homelessness can happen to anyone. Sharing homemade bread and a moment of kindness is something I enjoy giving to them. I wish there was more I could do to help. I write to lawmakers in support of low income housing projects and other ways our community is considering to address this growing issue. Somehow it never seems like enough.
Last night I was serving and a woman came up to me wearing a pretty strand of pearls. I complimented her on them. To my uncomfortable surprise, she began unwinding them from around her neck. I said, “Oh no, you don’t have to give them to me. They are yours.”
She looked me right in the eye and said, “I want you to have them. I’m grateful you come here to feed us.” With that she placed them around my neck and I knew it was very important to her that I accept her gift. Tears welled up in my eyes and I embraced her and she embraced me back. I thanked her for her gift to me. She accepted a piece of my bread and thanked me.
I was incredibly moved by this exchange between us and I still tear up when I remember it. She gave me something very precious to her, one of her few possessions. She gave it freely without a thought about letting it go. She needed to give it to me; she needed me to receive it. I needed her to give me a life lesson, about receiving graciously from someone I see as being in need of my giving. She helped me see that the idea of holding onto a possession was less important than the joy of sharing, of giving.
In the exchange that happened between us, we were part of the eternal dance of life in which giving and receiving is endlessly intertwined. The giver needs a receiver; the receiver needs a giver. We are all doing this dance every moment of every day. As I breathe out, the plants around me breathe in; as they breathe out, I breathe in. Many are the hands and life energies that sustain my existence on this planet. My task is to be a good steward of that which passes through my life and to keep passing it on, using only what I need. And when another has a need to give to me, to receive it graciously with an open heart.
I’m still soaking in the deeper meaning of this experience. I don’t have all the words and I’m sure it will continue to be revealed to me over time. To remind me, I’ve wrapped them around the lamp next to my computer where I will see them every day.
Rhonda Ashurst, RFM Blog Contributor
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.