By Keri Lucas, Friend of L’Arche Chicago
With my two-year-old son Wilson in tow on a rainy September morning, I met Mic at Oak Park’s Sugar Fixe bakery to learn about L’Arche Chicago. A recent transplant from the city’s north side, I was hoping to connect with a local non-profit, and my pastor had suggested L’Arche Chicago might be a good fit. Mic and I grabbed coffee and then took a walk, with my toddler strapped in his stroller. Amid a light drizzle, we talked about Mic’s story, L’Arche’s story, my story, and how they might intersect.
Mic connected me and my son, Wilson, with Elbert, because our availability aligned well with Elbert’s work schedule and because, as Mic told me, “Elbert loves kids, and he’s great with them.” Evangeline soon contacted me to organize logistics. Her initial email let me know that Kendall was the assistant who shared time with Elbert on Tuesday mornings, so she would be there and could facilitate an introduction. When I read Evangeline’s email, the expression “sharing time” struck me as interesting, but I didn’t think much more of it. Since that initial email, Wilson and I visit Friendship House to share time with Elbert every other Tuesday morning. We’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know Kendall, and now Ryan, who shares time with Elbert on Tuesday mornings when we visit.
Six months later, “sharing time,” captures the essence of my experience with Elbert and L’Arche Chicago. I experience Elbert as laid-back, patient, observant, and attune to others around him, especially to Wilson. Elbert watches Wilson with great delight. In fact, I have never met another adult, outside of my own family, who watches Wilson with such pleasure and attention. This is a remarkable gift that Elbert gives to me, as Wilson’s mom, each visit.
When Wilson and I arrive at Friendship House, we have a few rituals that have been established simply by the habit of sharing time. Elbert is typically sitting on the living room couch, waiting for us. We wave at him through the window as we open the front door. Allie, the Friendship House dog, comes running to greet us. We take off our coats and shoes, and Wilson heads straight into the kitchen to select a piece of fruit to snack on. Frequently we go down to the basement to play pool, or, if the weather is warm enough, we take Allie for a walk. Sometimes we get out into the wider community, too. We’ve had lunch at The Junction Diner in Forest Park, visited the Garfield Park Conservatory, and attended my older daughter’s winter concert at her Oak Park elementary school together.
As I’ve gotten to know Elbert over the last six months, we’ve talked about a wide variety of topics, from our childhoods to politics and many things in between. To my surprise, however, our spoken words are not what have been the most transformative about L’Arche for me. I’m an extrovert and, typically, verbose. In fact, silence is often uncomfortable for me. Yet with Elbert, the moments I have felt most connected to him are when he looks at me with a knowing glance of what Wilson is about to do next (like stand on the tip of his toes to steal a ball off of the pool table and throw it into the hole!), or when he shakes his head with wonder and nods my way, often with a chuckle and a wide smile, as he watches my son explore whatever is around him at the moment.
I’ve noticed that silence isn’t uncomfortable when I’m with Elbert. We are sharing time. We are delighting in watching a young child. We are giving each other the most precious gift of all, the gift of ourselves, fully present, our only agenda to be together.
My pastor was spot on. L’Arche has been wonderful community for me and my whole family to connect with as we put down roots in our new neighborhood. I’m incredibly grateful that we’re a part of the rich and intentional community that is L’Arche Chicago, and that my son and I share time with Elbert regularly.