Give and Take

I am no plumber. So when my elderly neighbor Joann shared with me her woes of a leaky sink and a landlord who won't return her calls, I was careful to say that I would "come look at it," neglecting any promises of fixing anything.

Saturday I donned my work pants, picked up my tools (in case the fix was as simple as she made it sound) and began walking over to Joann's. There is a convenient shortcut between our houses: across an empty lot, under the carport of Tyree's vacant house, across the street, and you're at Joann's.

This particular Saturday, Tyree happened to be sitting outside his vacant house. He had been remodeling the inside and was now enjoying the pleasant weather and talking to his next door neighbor across the fence. He asked what I was doing with that bag of tools, and I told him about Joann's sink.

"Well hey," he said. "I just replaced a sink. I've got some leftover parts in the back of my truck there. Help yourself." I took a few things that looked useful and continued across the street. Sure enough, one of them was exactly what I needed to fix the leaky drainpipe. But there was also a smaller leak in the waterline itself, as well as mold under the cabinet. I had to let Joann know that the sink was better, but it still needed more extensive repairs.

On my way back home, I saw my closest neighbor, Gigi, who mentioned she was about to mow her yard. I told her that it would be a good time for me to do the same thing, but my mower wasn't working.

"Well I need gas, but I can't get up to the store," she started. "I'll give you money for gas. Then you can use my mower when I'm done."

It gets better...yet another friend stopped by, fixed my mower, then helped me finish mowing in half the time. All this neighborliness and it wasn't even lunchtime yet.

In community renewal, as well as other ministries, we talk a lot about "mutually beneficial/enriching relationships." This means that relationships work best when there is a give and take. Otherwise things can get out of balance. A hierarchy forms where one is always giving while the other always takes. When it really gets out of hand, you end up with resentment from the giver and a lack of dignity on the part of the receiver.

Unfortunately, not every relationship is mutually enriching. (If it was, we probably wouldn't have a term for it.) But when I think back on Saturday, I have hope that what at first seemed just like a fortunate chain of events is actually a spirit of mutuality. Without my availability and tools, Joann's sink would be leaking as much as ever. Without Tyree, I wouldn't have been able to fix any part of the sink. Without Gigi, I couldn't have mowed my lawn. Without the last friend, it would've taken twice as long and I'd still have a broken mower. Without going to get gas, Gigi couldn't have mowed her lawn either.

And it was all possible because we were out where we could see each other and because a neighbor knew she could bring her need to the community.

I love that my Saturday was marked by common trust and interdependence. Together we got two lawns mowed, repaired one mower and fixed one leak. We also grew in our trust of each other. Some problems, though, like mold and absentee landlords, cannot be dealt with in a single morning. We must continue to put our heads together for solutions, work together, and find expert help when we need it. This is community renewal in a nutshell, and it starts with mutual trust.