"I have everything you need. I'm in Hollywood. PM me if you would like to borrow."
These are the words I typed in response to a post from a complete stranger (and future friend Darlene) in the facebook group Inspired Women of Los Angeles. The voice in the post sounded like me. It sounded like someone hungry for some space, the open road and an adventure with her dog. Without any hesitation, I responded to this stranger and offered the only possessions I had left in the world.
Let me backtrack a bit. A few months earlier I had returned from living in Hawaii with the intention of tying up any loose ends that I had left in Los Angeles. I was also returning because one of my closest friends had taken a turn for the worse. Dan had been diagnosed with bladder cancer earlier in the year and despite a positive report from his oncologist just a few weeks earlier, he was now entering hospice care and I wanted to be by his side. I had a place to stay, a vague plan of my next steps, a ride from LAX to pick up my car, and the code to my storage unit.
I packed all of my possessions into my car and immediately drove to my gated and security patrolled community in the Hollywood Hills. I was exhausted. Absolutely exhausted. I did not think I could even unpack the car that night. All I wanted was a hot shower, food, and my bed. I grabbed my carry-on bag from the recent flight and slammed the trunk of my car shut. I do not know what prompted me to do this but I opened the trunk again and dug through a suitcase to find my great grandmother's wedding ring. I wear it around my neck often and something told me I would want to have it with me tonight. I slammed the trunk again, locked the doors and walked into the building.
When I came back to my car everything was gone. Everything. I actually closed the trunk and opened it again. I could not believe my eyes. My stomach turned and I needed to grab on to something to stand up. Everything I have ever written was gone. The deed to my home was gone. The title and registration to my car were gone. Every piece of artwork my sister had ever made for me was gone. The last letter I ever wrote to my Nonna before she passed away was gone. The list of losses was horrifying and seemed to multiply in my mind as I stood there. The only thing that remained was my camping equipment.
I was devasted. Two and a half years earlier I had lost my home in Hurricane Sandy. My family had just finally been put back together after that loss. I felt as if I was being wiped off the face of the earth. I felt broken. I felt like I had nothing left. I did not want to talk to anyone. I did not want to participate in anything and I certainly did not want to help anyone. Nor did I think I was capable of helping anyone.
How often to do we think that we have nothing to contribute to a situation? How often do we stay silent when we want to offer a kind word? How often do we turn our back instead of extending a hand? How often do we feel that rising impulse to contract and conserve our emotional resources during times of loss?
Fast forward to 4 months later and I am smiling as I hand over the last of my possessions, my precious camping equipment, to a stranger and feeling alive and in one piece for the first time in months. When I responded to Darlene's request for help, it was literally all I had to give. The previous months had been full of shame and self-loathing for being robbed (I know it doesn't make sense) and grief over the death of my friend. But with Dan's voice in my head reminding me to "Keep what you have by giving it away" I experienced grace, connection, and healing in the very simple act of giving.
I once listened to a Tony Robbins lecture where he talked about the importance of giving no matter what financial state you are in. It irked me at first because I know what it feels like to have ten dollars to my name. How could I be expected to give to someone when I was in a moment of distress. He pointed out that in taking this action to give we train our brains to think abundantly. And the truth is, I will not always be down to my last ten dollars. There have been moments in my life when I had twenty thousand in my pocket. How generous was I then? If I am not willing to donate $1 out of every $10 then what are the chances of me donating $100 out of $1,000? My willingness is either there or it is not. My generosity cannot be determined by my bank account. It must be determined by my heart.
There is power in giving when you have next to nothing.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted. - John 6:12