Jean's "10 rules for life to become more human"

Our founder, Jean Vanier, celebrated his 90th birthday on September 10! He shared ten lessons that he learned throughout the years.

(Translated from French)

  1. Accept the reality of your body. “For a man to become a man he has to be at ease with his body. That body is fragile, like all bodies. We are born in weakness, as a child; we will die in weakness. I have to accept that I’m ninety. I’m not fifty, or forty, or thirty.”

  2. Talk about your emotions and difficulties.

  3. Don’t be afraid of not being successful. “You have to discover you are beautiful as you are.”

  4. In a relationship, take the time to ask “How are you?”

  5. Stop looking at your phone – be present! “To be human is to know how to relate.”

  6. Be aware of your own story. “You are precious. You have your ideas: political, religious, non-religious, you have your vision for the world.”

  7. Stop prejudice; Meet people. “The big thing about being human is to meet people. You have to meet people who are different and discover that the other person is beautiful.”

  8. Listen to your deepest desire.

  9. Ask people, “What is your story?” “I need to listen to you because your story is different to my story.”

  10. Remember that you will die one day. “We get into the train, we get out of the train, the train goes on.”

Originally published on The Tablet UK

L’Arche USA Executive Director and National Leader Tina Bovermann also wrote a touching tribute to Jean for his birthday.

“Do you know Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things”?  “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night ...”
In June, just a couple of days after the L’Arche USA National Assembly, which closed months and months of hard work by many, I had the chance to visit a special place. Under the high ceiling of a Northern sky, mirrored by the calm surface of the sea, a flock of geese makes it over the bay. From my bench on a slim wooden dock, I hear bumblebees and gurgling water.  The swaying reed opens up a window onto the sun that will soon sink into the sea.  The Peace of Wild Things.  “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Sitting on this bench, I reflect on my journey with L'Arche.  Exhale, inhale.  Again and again, I am amazed by how we make our way to our destination.  Our plate has been full: staying relevant to the need of people with disabilities today, increasing our reach to further character development of assistants, volunteers and friends, and developing L’Arche USA’s capacity and structures to support the work.  All of that in a world that is full of complexity and clamor.  And sure enough, we’ve seen fear in each other’s eyes, have heard anxiety in our voices, have expressed worry and concern, overwhelm and disagreement.  “Community is messy”, says Jean Vanier, and he sure is right. 
Yet, more often, simple gestures and habits have kept us connected and grounded.  If you have visited L’Arche, you will have witnessed the many ways through which L’Arche ritualizes the mundane and the simple: a meal well cooked, flowers on the table, the hug in the morning, a song in the evening, a joyful dance, an intentional smile of gratitude, the word of affirmation.  To speak with Jean once more: “When we put love into what we do, it becomes beautiful, and so do the results“.
At its core, L’Arche is spiritual, and at the core of our spirituality lies the wondrous ordinariness of our lives.  How often do I fight against the ordinary to preserve the wonder!  And yet, L’Arche teaches me again and again that the material and the ethereal are all but one.  In the midst of financial statements, dirty dishes, care-giving and laundry, we find a gazillion opportunities to put love into what we do. More than 50 years after Jean's founding of L'Arche, I can attest to the beauty of this movement, all thanks to the love he and we and you have put into it.”

Susan Zhu