We sit on the grass in the yard, our feet together, dinner a recent memory and frozen desert churning in the house. Trees above contemplate what to wear for fall and the mosquitoes dance down from short heights, not at all confused in their purpose. Over in the next yard, a man mows his lawn and sings. We smile at him and at one another. We listen.

This is the story of a gift circle taking place behind a house on a hill in Jamaica Plain. As one experienced in community building, in time banking, with some years of co-counseling and some hours of non-violent communication, as a true believer in invaluable intangibles, I’m not a stranger to the concept that all individuals have something valuable to contribute to their community. Yet, I remained receptive to surprise, excited to embark on a new path to connecting to the people in my community, friends and strangers and loves.

What are your needs? What are your gifts? What is your intention?

Following the format of the exercise, each person in turn answered whatever was true and pressing (and comfortable to share) to her or him, however concrete or abstract. Sometimes we called out agreement, sometimes we laughed or snapped our fingers to indicate that a need described was one we could happily fill. When the night grew late, we collected ourselves, each gifted with a new opportunity to give or receive.

Then we ate ice cream.

My needs shared that evening:

  • A clever way to wash a multitude of sweaters (my partner’s and mine) by hand
  • Help turning out the compost bin I share with my neighbor

Needs I hadn’t yet put to words:

  • Film camera lessons
  • New bike
  • Creative budgeting advice
  • Cat and plant sitting

My gifts:

  • Editing with a careful ear to the writer’s voice
  • Listening
  • Being fearless and yet polite
  • Being a companion for activities, even the potentially mundane
  • Organizing and planning

(Photo courtesy Ashley Clements 2011)