I was recently in Lisbon, Portugal, for a few days. The city has a unique atmosphere and “temperament.” How fascinating seeing the cafe’ where poet Fernando Pessoa used to pen his poems, or hearing the traditional sounds of fado music. There are no L’Arche communities in Portugal, however they have various Faith and Light communities that care for people living with disabilities.
One evening, at a bookstore, I shared about my recent book (which I have been doing quite a bit in recent days!) to a group of people that gathered from different walks of life. After the presentation, during the Q&A, attendees asked great questions. However, there were also people that, rather than simply asking a question, wanted to share from their experience of having encountered someone with a disability in their own lives. All of a sudden it felt that such a gathering of people became a listening community where people could feel heard and their stories welcomed. What a privilege to hear! Stories of simplicity and transformation. Stories that highlighted what a gift the presence of persons with disabilities brings to family, society, culture.
I heard similar stories in the United States, as I presented my book and met a variety of people for these occasions. As unique as each story is, it is quite something to witness to the “similarity” of the stories people share across cultural and geographical borders. The spirit of celebration at the core of many of them cannot go unnoticed: stories of parents whose lives have been profoundly touched by the presence of a child with a disability, stories of people who want to “break the wall” between people with and without disabilities, stories of people who want to bring disability awareness in their own contexts. Although I am currently geographically far from Chicago, some of these stories remind me of those stories present in our own L’Arche community. Stories of parents who advocate for their sons or daughters with disabilities, stories of people who seek to live out community inclusively.
Besides celebration, however, people often also expressed sentiments of “not knowing”. The not knowing of a parent who wonders where their son or daughter will be living once they are gone. The not knowing of someone who cares about disability issues that wonders how disability matters can receive more attention from society. At the core of these important questions, there also appears to be a sense of celebration – people with disabilities are important and their preciousness and rights need to be respected.
Let’s claim and share our stories of celebration. They can nurture our sense of community where people with disabilities are at the core. They may also reveal possible next steps as we venture into the “not knowing” of the future.