L’Arche has been a part of my life in one way or another for almost six years. I joined the Edinburgh community in August 2013 and spent a year living in Creelha, one of four L’Arche homes in Edinburgh.
I didn’t quite know how to be a person when I came to L’Arche. I’d just graduated from college and had been a student my whole life. Being successful meant getting good grades. Every assignment came with an objective measurement of my achievement and a pretty clear outline of how to get there. My value was my intellect, my analysis, and, ultimately, someone else’s opinion on the work I’d done. Without those measures, I wasn’t quite sure who I was.
L’Arche is hard. It’s messy (literally and figuratively) and it’s real. There are no grades, thank goodness, and pretty much nothing is objective, but, in many ways, I learned more living in L’Arche for one year than I learned in many years of formal education. I learned to just be. I learned that a moment is no less valued because it cannot be measured or evaluated and that I am not valued because of what I do or know. I learned that sharing our weaknesses and vulnerabilities is just as beautiful and necessary as sharing our gifts. I learned that we all want love and a place to belong.
My role as the Director of Professional Services is a bit strange. I have one foot in the dry, impersonal bureaucracy of food stamps, appointment forms, and audits, with the other planted in the relationships of L’Arche. It has been difficult to navigate at times, especially when deadlines are involved, but, ultimately, the people of L’Arche gave meaning to my everyday tasks and kept me rooted in what matters. It’s not the SNAP application or the Implementation Plan that’s most important–it’s the way we use these tools to support core members to live well. I truly believe that the L’Arche model of basing everything in relationships, in knowing people and what they want and need, leads to high quality care and I feel lucky to have been a part of it here in Chicago.
In August I will start classes at in the doctoral program in The School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University. I hope to study policies that increase community access and quality of life for people with disabilities, with a specific focus on quality healthcare. Like the social service system, academia has the potential to be detached from real-life experiences. I will once again be evaluated with grades and be expected to use my head more than my heart. I hope that my time with L’Arche will remind me that my value is not based in grades or academic success. As I begin my research, I want to stay rooted in L’Arche values by holding people at the center of the work I do.
I am excited to begin the next chapter in my life, sad to leave L’Arche Chicago, and immensely grateful for my time here. Thank you, God, for giving us L’Arche!