The Grace of Being Together

Michael Contreras

Published 10 February 2020

I want to share a lesson I have been learning in my time at L’Arche Chicago. I‘ve been thinking a lot about graceful presence: what does it mean when someone enters my world and shares their life with me? Does it change how I think of myself?

It was an early morning and I was gathering the supplies for a beloved Peace House ritual: gluten free chocolate chip pancakes on Saturday morning. This time, I decided to use the waffle maker. I was a little rushed for time and a little tense from the happenings of the week. As I thought through the morning tasks of unloading the dishes, setting up and cooking breakfast, laundry, and eventually wiping the counter spill I made in my hurry to make the batter, I felt uneasy. Well, all I can do is just get things done and push through it all. So, when my friend Jeanie came down asking me if a breakfast of honey nut cheerios and almond milk was ready, I said “Sure, I can do that”. One more thing added to my mental to-do list as I stopped whisking the lumpy batter.

A bowl of cereal later, she was headed upstairs to get ready for the day, but hesitated a bit, watching the flick of my wrist and sensing my focus on the red bowl of batter. I heard “Watcha doing?” and I replied, “Just making a waffle mix”, not really looking to expound or anything. Before I could think about it, I asked “Do you want to help me?” I had never really thought of being helped on Saturday mornings. It was usually all up to me. She immediately agreed.

I didn’t really know what I was in for. I handed the wire whisk over and watched my friend settle in, slowly combining the flour and the liquid mixture. Jeanie was humming a tune and smiling while making the batter nice and even, smoothing over the lumps of flour and egg. “Oh wow, that smells good!” she said, causing me to smile for the first time that morning. I hadn’t been able to appreciate the goodness of the sugary aroma and companionship because of my focus on what needed to be done.

Things started falling into place. As I was made more relaxed, the jokes and laughs followed. We started conversing about the weather and how we could have fun as a house during the winter. I got out the waffle maker and held the bowl while she poured batter in the square grooves. I kept thinking to myself: I thought I had to do this alone but this is so much better. Soon enough, we started dreaming of starting a business together, “Jean and Mike’s waffles! We should come up with our special recipe, and maybe we could make some for people in need one day.” While I was setting the table, she wiped my spill on the counter clean, saying: “You gotta be careful, you know. You can get hurt or mess up if you go too fast.” That stuck with me. To this day, I recall the truth of these words in my life, my relationships, and faith journey.

One thing I love about this story is how I didn’t know what I was missing that morning until I was helped. I often put limits on myself and others by trying to be independent and being on my own. But when I am open to another, new possibilities can arise reminding me about the gifts of living in the L’Arche Chicago community: the simple things we do as we live life together become extraordinary and unforgettable.

That morning, I was reminded of the value of slowing down and receiving the presence of another person. Sharing life together allowed us to think of other people we could bless. After we realized that we enjoyed each other’s company, I could be freed of my preoccupation with to-do’s, tasks, efficiency and more fully enter relationship, curiosity and joy. One way (of the many) that L’Arche has blessed me is through this community that allows me to love myself in new ways, through sharing of burdens, joys and everything in between. For that, I am grateful in ways beyond what I can express. As we grinned from cheek to cheek opening the machine to golden-crusted, gluten free waffles, and as Jeanie said see you later as she walked upstairs to make room for the other two core members coming for breakfast, I thought of how different my morning would have been if I remained alone and did not receive the grace of being together.