Monday, May 22, 2017

Turning Homeward with Gratitude

Yesterday, watching my own mini-van pull away from the curb on 15th Avenue in Seattle, pulling away without me and John, I felt sharp pangs of regret.

The “L’Arche Across America” tour, which I had done much to plan and promote and chronicle, was rolling on without me. The circus was leaving town and I wasn’t in it.

(The circus arrived in Portland late yesterday, as the picture proves. Left to right: Todd, Shonda, Doris, and Woody, with L’Arche Portland’s Adam, second from left.)

But today, waking up early at Angeline House in Seattle, where community has been very gracious to John and me, my thoughts are turning homeward with gratitude.

I am sifting through some little lessons granted by two weeks on the road in the company of some remarkable people.

Two of the more remarkable: Jane and Angie. L’Arche assistants are often quite amazing, and these women are two of the more amazing.

Jane (left) was one of my five fellow travelers when we left Haverhill on May 9, and she will be rejoining the tour in Los Angeles this week, after completing some personal business back home.

Jane brings serenity to everyone with whom she comes in contact. She has been in community at L’Arche Boston North long enough to be able to see through surfaces to the often simple realities beneath. Particularly with core members, the adults with disabilities with whom we assistants share time.

It is easy to see surfaces with core members, since that is what the world sees in them most of the time: the distracted gaze, the odd speech pattern if any speech at all, the nervous tics, the unusual facial features.

After you share meaningful time with know core members, you start to see beneath these surfaces. Your heart responds to movements of their hearts. The relationships become emotional.

At this place, beneath the surface, it becomes easy, as Angie put it to me the other morning, to demonize or (her term) angelicize core members. As we get to know them, we make them not just special but super-special, paragons of humanity, and our emotions veer toward the super-positive or the super-negative. (Believe me, there are core members who will drive you freaking nuts.)

By way of brief introduction, Angie is a young assistant at L’Arche Seattle, one of our gracious hosts at Angeline House, and third from left in the group photo here. Like Jane, a former nun, Angie is attracted to the religious life, although she currently lives and works as a lay L’Arche assistant.

As for Jane, she made a couple of simple comments about core members in the past two weeks that struck me for their common sense.

Discussing one core member in our L’Arche Boston North community, a person who has perplexed me with his raging complexity, Jane said effectively that this person was going through a midlife crisis.

What?! Could a core member have a midlife crisis just like you or me?

With another core member who is older and frailer, Jane observed: You have to realize that he is not young. Then, apparently reminding herself that I am about the same age as the core member in question, she added that the other man was much older than his chronological age, that the wear and tear of life in and out of institutions, before coming to L’Arche, had taken a grievous toll on him.

So core members can have midlife crises? Core members can grow old and therefore tired and so not as willing to “get up and go”?

Yes indeed.

These comments of Jane’s, so simple apparently but so compassionate, are a fruit of L’Arche living. Jane is able to see core members as just exactly like you and me—beneath the distracting surfaces and beneath the tendency we may have to demonize or angelicize.

The last comment I want to record here was Angie’s, and it is apparently not original with her. She cited L’Arche founder Jean Vanier or someone close to him as its source. Here is the comment.

“You have to realize with core members that they know they have lost the race from the beginning, so they are free to be themselves.”

That is a statement I can chew on a long time. How much do I still wish to “win the race”? How much does that desire to “win” prevent me from being myself? And in losing, and accepting their loss, how much freer are core members than I myself?

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