Wednesday, May 10, 2017
L’Arche Across America — Day 1 — Bad Omens?
From inside a van freighted with a roof rack and decorated with erasable paint, I chatted up the officer about the 8,000-mile odyssey I was about to undertake with six adults, three with intellectual disabilities. California and back in 26 days. I got off with a warning and a smile.
By the time five of us were loaded at Peace House two hours later, I didn’t know how we were going to get the roof rack closed, or keep seats open in the rear of the van for the two assistants not driving. Two of our core members had packed as if for a moon mission. And we hadn’t even picked up Todd and his luggage yet. Doris looked skeptical (photo above).
About ten miles down Route 495, a man pulled alongside our van and gave me a thumbs-up. I interpreted this as, Good for you, taking a L’Arche group on the road. I mean, after all, he could read the messages on the van and the door sign reading: 2017 Tour Across America. He pulled ahead and then, suspiciously, he fell back alongside us. Now I could see that he was not thumbing but pointing. And rolling down his window. And shouting over the highway roar that our roof rack was open.
As Frannie, de facto head of Pat House, would say, Holy sh—!
Down an air mattress and two bags of bedding, Jane and I shrugged, laughed, and agreed that as long as we had the meds and the money, we were good.
Only at L’Arche are bad omens not so bad. Only at L’Arche are such misadventures par for the course. A speeding ticket, luggage strewn on the highway, and a failure to arrive at the right place and time for the only fixed event on our calendar? Yes, and everything was beautiful.
Especially this: After the prayer meeting, I sat with a 40-year-old core member of the Syracuse community. As with Richard two weeks ago, I hit it off with Brad. Although we seldom speak of diagnoses in L’Arche, it is accurate and may even be informative to write that Brad appears to suffer from severe cerebral palsy. At least, I understood him this way: a fine intelligence (those eyes!) trapped inside an uncooperative body.
Yet within a minute, Brad had his electronic tablet in his lap, and the two of us were engaged in a personable conversation. I learned that Brad was from Syracuse, had been in community for five years, and other data. I shared some of my own data. Our meeting ended with our sharing e-mail addresses and my request that Brad write me so that we could continue the conversation.
Todd, who made all of our sleeping arrangements for the 26-day trip, had set us up to stay in the home of Steve and family. Steve is a former L’Arche Boston North assistant now in Syracuse. But he and his family were away, and so we were hosted by house guests of his, members of a Bruderhof community.
So dinner (pizza, salad, and ice cream over fruit salad) was the scene for us learning about Bruderhof and them learning our stories, including those of the core members. Best were the exchanges with Woody, who is pretty much all-knowing about rock and roll, and is pretty unstoppable when on a roll. Under my breath, I asked the Bruderhof husband what the Bruderhof folks make of rock, and he answered with a huge, warm smile and words that did not surprise me: “We generally avoid it!”
Afterward, as John, one of our core members, drifted to sleep on the couch, Todd, Woody, and I sat around him chatting, just to give John company as he drifted off. Sensing our fellowship, our host came in and joined us. Just another guy on a chair chewing the fat.
We are living it here in Syracuse. Bad omens, beautiful encounters, amazing fellowship.
After John had fallen asleep, the rest of us retired to our respective corners and I wrote this post. Only afterward did I check my phone and find this text message:
“Hi I'm Brad.”