Transitions are essential

Evangeline Smith

Published 15 July 2017

A couple of Thursdays ago we gathered as a community to celebrate myself and two others whose anniversaries are in May. It’s a tradition in L’Arche that we affirm and celebrate those in our community. Every month it makes me a little weepy thinking about the odd and colorful humans I’m sharing this life with. Even on months that we are celebrating someone I don’t know well, I find myself filled with gratitude for their gifts. It’s a culture of affirming that seeps into all areas of life in L’Arche.

I moved in on May’s Celebration night last year. Hours after unpacking my car, I was thrown into a circle of strangers as they affirmed my now housemate and friend Tim. I remember feeling out of place, obviously. I knew it was going to take time for me to know community, but I sat there day-dreaming about the day when I would feel at home in the circle. Knowing that the way people embraced one another was something I wanted to be an authentic part of. And it happened, I learned my place in the circle. People know my name (although there is a core member in another house that confidently and unapologetically tries out different names every time he sees me, this past week I got: Alyssa). I feel at home here.

But I also remember the rawness that came from feeling new. A rawness that I’ve been missing lately, especially these past two weeks.

Leaders in our community share how transition is essential because new people bring the gift of not knowing. Of not having expectations. Of being really good at being. I remember hearing this when I first joined community and thinking, “I hope I can always feel new in the ways that are important, but reap the benefits of feeling like I belong, something that comes with time and a lost sense of newness.” (Best of both worlds situation) I wrote about it, I spent energy pondering it.

When I was new new (because really, I’m a tiny, tiny zygote in community still, compared to many who have spent years, decades and a lifetime in L’Arche) there were two thoughts and concepts I knowingly and somewhat accidentally held close.

One: I am not here to change anyone, and someone’s success or failure is not dependent on me.

It’s a beautiful mindset, an essential mindset. A core of community really. L’Arche is not about fixing anyone. It’s about living together in the brokenness. Living with people who are loud and ugly in their pain. I did this easily when I was fresh off the boat, because I couldn’t do it any other way. I was not connected to anyone yet, I didn’t take things personally. I remember thinking that being in relationship, being patient, was so easy with my housemates. Especially compared to my own family, who I often find myself really struggling to accept for who they are. It’s this odd thing that happens when you love: you care so much that you want the “best” for them, but then by wanting the best for them, you seek to change them, ultimately engaging in a very unloving act. Maybe the crux of the struggling in all human relationships?

Two: I’m here to just be.

“Just” minimizes this statement. Because being is not a joke, similar to how meditation and mindfulness are not jokes. It’s really really hard to be. To resist doing. To resist thinking or changing or moving or improving. But to actually sit with someone, to actually listen to someone. To actually give of yourself fully and honestly. It’s not something we place a lot of value on. You can’t put on your resume: “From 2016-2017 I was.” It looks like an incomplete statement, but maybe it’s the fullest possible statement.

Obviously I cannot go back to being the new person. I remember getting into fights with significant others and trying to resolve it by walking out the room, and walking back in, and saying “Hi, my name is Evangeline, it’s nice to meet you.” While shaking their hand. Attempting to undo it all and just start again as strangers. You could try it and see if it works for you, for me it was always unsuccessful.

And, maybe the most important thing, is I don’t want to go back. Because I have fallen in love here, in this community. Fallen in love with how horribly real and human it is. Even on the days I feel bitter and burnt out, I’m filled with purpose. I know I need to be exactly where I am.

Maybe I can remind myself of those two points more often? I find myself most burnt out and bitter when I expect someone to not be themselves that day. Every day Chris is Chris and Elbert is Elbert, and I’m me. Guaranteed.

Aside from being aware of these things, and reminding myself of them as often as I can, I’m looking forward to soaking in the magic of the new assistants. I hope that I can  humble myself to the occasion, and see their newness as a gift and something to learn from. Transitions, they tell me, are essential.