How To Be Neighborly: Gift Giving
Words by Julie Pointer Photographs by Laura Dart & Carissa Gallo
Our writer discovers that her favorite form of hospitality is giving gifts to others and suggests a list of ideas that would make someone feel welcome.
Open your eyes and your hands. Learning to be a generous neighbor is a practice of tangibility, and simply changing your physical posture is a good place to begin. Paying attention with your whole self turns your face outwards and upwards (and away from yourself), and keeps your hands at the ready to freely give, and freely receive.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced a season (or many) where everything feels hard, where living in a new city (or an old one) is lonesome, and empty, and you wonder if you’ll ever put down roots and feel at home. Being at home is not merely geographic—it’s having a sense of belonging, and feeling known, knowing others. When I feel out of place, it’s easy for me to clam up, to close in on myself, and to begin ticking off the things I lack. At times, this inventory includes the carefree charisma to charm, the tight-knit community I crave, the invitations to cozy soup suppers and evenings spent around the fire. In short, I keep my head down, with my hands firmly clenched around my laundry list of wants.
During one particular season, in which I experienced this wanting most deeply, the thing that eventually changed me was not suddenly coming into a cache of friends, or resigning myself to self-pity; instead, my self-focused gaze shifted, and I began looking at and wondering about others around me. I quickly found that the antidote to discontent is examining what I do have, and sorting out how I might freely share it with others. While I know being neighborly extends beyond considering your street-mates, this seemed the most logical place for me to begin. Without going into the long details of fearful first meetings, cookies left at doorsteps (in the cover of night), and the constant trepidation of rejection, I found myself only a short time later being lavished with the generosity of those I had so nervously opened myself to. I shared Sunday morning French toast with the family next door, planted a garden with a new friend across the street and started each day with greetings from the neighborhood children playing in the trees outside my window. Each of these new friendships was an unexpected gift, reminding me of the goodness of faithfully stepping toward these once-strangers in spite of my fear.
This act of unfolding oneself toward others is the beginning of the art of hospitality, an attitude that must be practiced daily to become habit-forming. The word “hospitality” has often been relegated to stiff, stuffy ideas of chocolates on pillows and pressing the sheets just so, but it has much more to do with the way you posture your body toward the world, and the people within it. One of my favorite ways of practicing hospitality—perhaps a favorite because it comes most naturally for me—is gift-giving. No fancy gifts, mind you; what I mean is more of a general open-handedness about the things I have, and the desire to share them with others. It’s a strange paradox—the more I acknowledge my gratitude for the good things in my life, the more apt I am to want to give them away.
I love arriving at people’s homes with a gift, whether for dinner, an overnight stay, or just a quick morning visit. Sometimes it’s as simple as a jotted note of encouragement, a basket of strawberries, a few wildflowers plucked from the roadside on the way in. The point is not the extravagance of the gift, but rather, the intentionality of never arriving empty-handed. My home is speckled with these love-gifts from others—a mossy branch, a faded blue marble, a bit of driftwood, a matchbox, a postcard. I find joy in these simple objects because someone else has seen them with open eyes, and given them with open hands. The blessing of the offering can be such a surprise.
• Cider Seasoning
• Bouquet of Leaves
• Pot of Soup
• Dried Herbs
• Bundle of Firewood
• Music Mix for Chilly Evenings
• A Well-Loved Book
• A Cherished Recipe
• Homemade Granola
• A Hearty Plant
• Tin of Tea
• A Basket of Squash
• Stack of Found Photos
• Thrifted Woolen Blanket
• Collection of Candles