Monday, September 9, 2013

Craigslist as community-building

What it means to meet the people who get your stuff

In the process of moving, my husband and I posted a number of items on Craigslist. You've probably been doing this for years, but it was new to us. I was fascinated to see what a window this gave me to our community. We met people we would likely never have come across. And each had a story. You know Steve Hartman on TV who drops into a little town, opens a phone book and randomly picks someone to interview....and proves once again that Everybody Has a Story? Well, Craigslist was like that for us.

Our 11 year old Prius went to the daughter of a perky Vietnamese couple. She told her parents that she wanted a Prius for the good gas mileage. And while they were out on test drives, I introduced their little toddler to the delights of picking raspberries.

A woman wanted to buy our old slide projector and related equipment. Her elderly grandmother was coming with old family slides, probably her last trip, and this woman's husband had broken their projector the night before. She asked if we could deliver it. Deliver it? You must be kidding! But she told us the police, with their new license plate cameras, had taken her license, thinking she was someone else. She was going to court the next day to prove them wrong. But grandma was only going to be in town for the day.

So I talked my husband to take the projector, screen and trays to her, half an hour away. He was not exactly delighted with this mission. But when he arrived, she threw her arms around him. Her husband was dancing on his toes, so excited for all the stuff they were getting for $50. Then they pointed to the picture on the wall of the woman's daughter, made from a slide, after she had been murdered by her boyfriend. There were no witnesses so he could not be prosecuted. My husband came home beaming that he could provide a little joy to a family like that.

I also had to sell my childhood four-poster canopy bed; I can remember laying in a crib at the base of it wondering if I would ever be grown up enough to sleep in it. It was also my mother's childhood bed. So it was not easy to let go of. A woman drove two hours to get it and told me that she was in Stage 4 breast cancer. She was hoping for the best, but worst case, she wanted a nice bed to rest in. OMG. I told her I hoped my mother would watch over her.

These short interactions didn't lead to long-term relationships. We were, after all, moving out of town. But they gave us an appreciation for the humanity around us, the lives of other people we would otherwise not have known.  Little vignettes of life from people in different walks of life, different ethnic groups, can help build empathy and understanding. It helps knit our society together. There is something about inviting someone into your home that invites these intimate conversations. And it's satisfying (in most cases) to know who ended up with our stuff. Even though money changed hands, it felt like a bit like a gift...for people on both sides of the transaction.

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