As I leave my role at L'Arche, I by no means feel like I've figured it all out, like my “graduate degree” in life is a ticket to a perfect future. Rather, I have developed tools that I know will support me in every stage of life, whether that be in school, at work, with family, or with friends. At L'Arche, you never know what is going to happen next. You may spend 15 minutes talking with your housemates about a plan for the day, and then at minute 16 or 17, a greater need arises that everyone moves to support, whether that be providing openness and flexibility to reschedule plans, direct attention to the need, or emotional support through conversation later on. This is one of the many definitions of community; a group of people tuning into each others' needs and desires, asserting themselves or making space for others' voices and actions, whichever serves in a given moment. Some days go as planned, others are abundant with surprises. Whichever type of day it is, we all strive to listen, share, and understand, creating an atmosphere that works as well as possible for everyone.
I recently had the opportunity to go to the Oregon Symphony with my housemate, Joni. We had purchased tickets ahead of time, and the day of the show, we made a plan to go to Burgerville for dinner before, drive downtown, and park in the parking lot just across the street from the auditorium, close by and accessible. That day, everything went according to plan, and even exceeded our expectations. The usher at the aisle with accessible seats that we had reserved was not only incredibly helpful managing crowds so that Joni, wheelchair, and I could easily pass through, she was expecting us when we arrived, and moved a chair out of the way so that we had an ideal amount of space while enjoying the music. This was one of those days that just seems to click.
Another day, my housemate, Marilyn, and I had plans to go out for coffee with my mom, a monthly gathering that the three of us do. Marilyn and I both value having a solidified plan and being on time, and we look forward to coordinating an exact date and time every month. However, on that particular day, Marilyn had a prior commitment that ended up going about two hours later than expected, running well into our coffee time. Needless to say, both of our days, and particularly Marilyn's, ended up being quite different than we had originally planned. We talked about it, my mom and I bowing out of our plan, making space for Marilyn to focus on what she needed to for the afternoon. The three of us were able to reschedule for a week later, juggling our three very different schedules and matching them up in a way that worked for all of us, supporting our emotional and social lives in each others' company, doing an activity that we all enjoy.
I can call L'Arche a tapestry. I can call L'Arche a graduate program. What those metaphors come down to is that a L'Arche home and a L'Arche community are microcosms of what all humans experience in the day to day. What distinguishes my experience at L'Arche is how we turn towards each other with intention to weave the tapestry, to build a circle of people who all contribute, giving and receiving from the collective whole. Lots of people go out for coffee and go to concerts. But do they do so with intention? Do they do so through communicating via two-way (or three or four or ten-way) streets, listening to and accounting for everyone's hopes, needs, and values?
Before I joined L'Arche, I knew that community was the basis through which I wanted to live my life. It has always felt right to get to know my neighbors, seeking out human connection that is mutually supportive, meaningful, and empowering. We all affect each other, from the global, to the regional, to the one on one level. Each of us has threads that we cast out, to be woven over, under, and around each other. L'Arche has taught me how to weave with others. Not against others, not for others, not past others. We make space for all parts of ourselves that we want to share, and honor the parts that we keep to ourselves. For me, that is the point of L'Arche, and what life is really all about. To all of my community members at L'Arche-Portland, thank you for weaving with me. Thank you for sharing your tapestries with me, and allowing me to share mine. Thank you for teaching me to weave on our community's tapestry together, over, under, in and around.