Two weeks ago, one of my neighbors called to say that her husband had been deported. She was four days into recovering from surgery when he was taken back to Mexico.
My mind went to her immediate needs as I sat in her apartment, taking stock of the situation. Right then, I wanted to know if her kids were cared for, if there was food in the cupboards and rent money available. We assessed her life and realized they needed two beds and a portion of the rent.
That night I ate dinner at the home of a lifelong friend. Her three kids danced and bounced around as we debriefed one another about our days. She told me how she was moving things around in the kids' rooms and asked if I needed sheets.
"Why are you getting rid of sheets?" I asked.
"Because I'm getting rid of the bed," she replied.
"What I really need is the bed," I informed her.
So there we were a few hours after my conversation with my neighbor, loading up a bed and sheets. My friend was happy to have the bed moved out, and my neighbor was delighted to have a bed for her family.
These are moments that give me great joy. I got the best part because I experienced the joy of the giver and of the receiver. This time it worked out that both the giver and the receiver felt honored and joyful. This is not always the case, as many of us know.
At a recent gathering, I shared with a woman that I live and work on Shalimar Drive in Costa Mesa.
"Oh," she said. "We recently took a mattress over there for a family. We just left it out and figured someone would need it."
Instead of thanking her and being glad, what went through my mind was, "You're the one."
Lately it seems that there have been many mattresses dumped in our neighborhood. They do not feel like a gift. It feels like being treated like a trash dump.
Mika's Neighborhood Action Committee has become vigilant, watching to see who is dumping and mapping where large items are left. On several occasions neighbors have caught license plate numbers to report people coming in from the outside to dump sofas and mattresses and such.
So what's the difference if I deliver a bed to a neighbor or they drag a mattress out of the alley? Isn't a bed a bed?
Besides the obvious sanitation issues, the difference is the relationship.
In many ways it is not about the bed at all. It is about being considered and connected. And this is the issue on both sides.
The woman at the party dumps the mattress because she does not know anyone with a need. My neighbor calls me because she is not connected to others who can help.
We cannot consider one another because we do not know one another. Perhaps this is why I enjoy making connections so much.
I see the joy that comes when we engage in genuine friendship. This is why my next move is getting my neighbor and my friend together. I cannot wait for their kids to be dancing around with each other.
CRISSY BROOKS is executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.