For the first time in a couple of years, I climbed the steps to the Friends House not as a resident but as a guy with no way in.
I had to remind myself not to use the special doorbell code for housies who’ve forgotten their key. Instead, I pressed the bell once and waited, much as any passerby might.
The greeting I got from Ben was a boisterous reminder that, at least among my former housemates, I’m no stranger.
The visit got me thinking about what I share with the 32 people previously known as strangers with whom I did dish crew, shoveled snow, painted a bathroom, installed a lightswitch, scrubbed toilets, washed windows, sat in silence and passed the talking rock between June 2013 and August 2015.
Stepping into the office, Ben pointed me to a bin of mail the Post Office had failed to forward. I glanced at the mailboxes of the 21 current residents and noticed a couple of new names above our old slots
Heading downstairs to the kitchen, I ran into Billy, who’d made such an impression on Leila, our two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, that she was convinced he’d be joining us in our new apartment in Brookline. Encountering a friendly face I didn’t recognize, I figured it must be John, who moved in by virtue of us moving out. He lives now in our old room on the third floor. Continue reading
Shortly after getting off the plane in San Francisco last week, I went to my first AA meeting. A friend invited me to tag along to the gathering where she’s been a regular for years. It was an open meeting — meaning visitors were welcome — and my friend had been asked to tell her story as the evening’s guest speaker.
In many ways, the ragtag assembly of a few dozen folks in a nondescript storefront reminded me of our twice-monthly house meetings at BHFH. Both begin with a moment of silence. Both follow clearly prescribed (and time-limited) procedures for sharing personal stories and conducting business. Both are closely aligned to the values of their sponsoring organizations — Alcoholics Anonymous and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Both organizations refer to their Meetings in ways that suggest an upper case M.
I expected to learn some new things about my friend at the AA meeting, and I did. What surprised me was learning something about the topic that occasioned our trip to the west coast in the first place.
I’ve been reading a lot about generosity in preparation for leading a retreat on that subject this weekend. The books have ranged from informative (The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose) to challenging (The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty) to inspiring (More or Less: Choosing a Life Style of Excessive Generosity). Each of them has invited me to re-evaluate the way we live. And the way we give.
Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson, researchers at Notre Dame, identify various types of generosity: Giving money, volunteering, neighborly generosity (watching someone’s house when they’re away, etc) and relational generosity (being generous within one’s extended family). They found that generous Americans experienced more health, happiness, purpose in life and sense of well-being. Despite this, they also found a surprisingly high percentage of ungenerous Americans who live in fear of not having enough for themselves down the road. Continue reading