Sunday, February 21, 2016

Life in the Compound: The Parable of the Necklaces


The compound was alive with parties this weekend. I spot two gathering in this picture.
I have been reflecting on communities, the villages of people that grow in our hearts. What does it mean to live in a neighborhood (my first blog in Doha), a place or home, where we are in close proximity to people who we probably did not choose to be neighbors? What are the possibilities when we open our hearts to friends who become sisters--people who unexpectedly become like family? One of my favorite authors, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in her poignant book A Gift from the Sea describes my exact feelings: "Out of the welter of life, a few people are selected for us by the temporary confinement in the same circle. We never would have chosen these neighbors; life chose them for us. But thrown together on this island of living, we stretch to understand each other and are invigorated in the stretching. . . . And yet it is the unknown with all its . . . surprises that is the most enriching." Village, community, compound, and yes, family life necessitates expanding our perspectives--with people who have widely different faiths, backgrounds, approaches to life. However, if we are willing, we can learn from the society around us the lessons we were supposed to learn when we were uploaded on the same "island."

Pick up cricket and soccer games are always to be seen in the field of sand....
Due to the contractions of oil costs, some people are moving back to their home countries or other places for further opportunities. It has struck me that the time we all have to be on the same "island" together can be deceivingly, unexpectedly brief, like shadows that flee in the glaring sun. If we are to be honest, we really never know how long any of us will be in the same village, community, and neighborhood. With that gleaned wisdom, we should act accordingly--knowing that a friend, neighbor, family member could quickly move to another island. People who are thrust upon our islands are meant to teach us--to chisel off our preconceived perceptions and fill in our gaps. These friends teach us through precious moments and bonds that relationships should not elude us--that we grasp and absorb what we are meant to learn within the framework of time we are together.

The Kate Spade necklace I got at an outlet, that reminded me of the gift of giving.

A good friend in my compound is moving back to the States this next week--a friend who taught me the ropes of being an expat, who so very often invisibly serves and gives to those around her--in this compound we live in. When I learned she was moving, I wanted to cork my sadness by giving her a gift--something I knew she would treasure. I had let her borrow my necklace last summer for a family picture. She looked at me one day (just looking at my neck), and exclaimed how much she loved my necklace, telling me that it had the exact colors for her upcoming family picture. She shrugged off my offer to borrow it, but I insisted that she take it. After the summer, she promptly returned it, knowing how much I enjoy colorful bling (I am not a connoisseur of precious gems, but I do relish a vibrant scarf or necklace). In my sorrow that she was leaving, I decided to give the necklace to her. It felt right--that it belonged to her. Thankfully, it erased some of the sting of having her move away.

Doesn't it look like my necklace actually belongs to my friend? 


Fast forward a week later, and another friend from the compound, this one being from Ghana, came to bring me a belated Christmas gift. When I opened it, a tear rolled down my cheek. It was her own necklace that I had admired a few months before. The necklace she gave me is all the rage in Ghana right now--connecting buttons that are covered with colorful fabrics. She told me a few months ago (even though I did not expect it) that she would buy me one next time she was in Africa. She came to me a week ago and said, "I don't know when I will be in Ghana next time so I want to give you my own necklace. I had it dry cleaned for you."

Nafi, from Ghana, gave me this beautiful necklace that is made from buttons covered with vibrant fabrics.

When I told her that I had given away a favorite necklace of mine to a friend who was leaving, my voice got a little shaky. I realized that although I had given something I actually really liked away to a friend, I was reimbursed not only with a necklace: I was given the experience of receiving a gift that was so lovingly, earnestly given. It was a treasured moment for me, knowing that all things are truly compensated for. All that we give, when we give it with love, is unfailingly given back to us tenfold. It happens every time, whether we give of ourselves, our possessions, our energy, our talents, we are undoubtedly enriched in the exchange. It made me want to always have meaningful interchanges and encounters on my own island, the web of people that I am meant to learn from now. That is the parable of the necklaces.