The first time I visited a L’Arche community (L’Arche Greater Washington DC), in the fall of 2006, I was greeted by Johnny, a man with intellectual disabilities originally from Cuba. Johnny welcomed me by looking right into my eyes, from behind his big glasses, and speaking to me – almost without interruptions! – in Spanish. At the time, as Johnny kept talking to me with great interest, I did not understand everything he was saying, but that wasn’t the point. I know it was important to hear it. I was simply being present to him as he was welcoming me in his own way. Although I had already been reading about L’Arche and sensed an interior invitation to join L’Arche as a school of life, I did not need to understand everything – I was being invited to learn more about what it means to be human from people with intellectual disabilities.
I would eventually become part of the community where Johnny was when I moved to that area for grad studies, but my journey as a L’Arche assistant actually began eleven years ago at L’Arche Boston North (back then called Irenicon, which is a proposition of peace). There, I lived at Gandhi Home, together with four housemates with intellectual disabilities and three without. Our life together had preciously simple ordinary moments: shared weekend brunches, coffee outings, van rides with great music on, quiet prayer after dinner, and so on. It also had more challenging yet valuable moments: sharing life with people that are new and different- in their vision, expectations and life styles – calls for continual learning, with its ups and downs, on how to grow together through the experience of community. In community we are invited to nurture a sense of belonging, journeying alongside each other in the midst of the securities and unknowns of life.
One evening, when I lived as an assistant in the foyer de L’Arche, the precious founding L’Arche home in the Trosly-Breuil (France) community, the founder came over and we gathered in a circle with him in the home’s living room. He quietly and gently asked us what we were afraid of, what brings us fear. It was touching to hear people getting in touch with their fear, such a universal experience. Yet, and this is an important sign in today’s age, in community we can come together as human beings in the midst of our similarities and differences and lovingly bring hope to fear. Maybe, at least partly, that’s what Johnny was inviting me into that fall of 2006.