AG: Keeley, can you tell us the story of how you came to live at L'Arche Portland?
KT: As a senior at the University of Portland, I was discerning my path with Beth Barsotti (Assistant Director of Faith Formation at UP and a board member of L'Arche Portland.) I was thinking about going to graduate school in library science but wasn’t ready yet. Beth told me I had a “tenderness” about me and spoke to me about joining L’Arche. That semester, I had to give a speech about a faith leader and I chose Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche and was moved by what I learned about him and the community. I visited the Portland community, met Bernie and Katz and some core members, including Marilyn, who welcomed me. The day I moved in, Adam helped me load in all my stuff and Erin sat on my bed and told me my clothes were pretty as we put them away.
AG: What expectations did you have entering L’Arche Portland?
KT: I felt drawn to L’Arche out of curiosity, and wanting to experience something different. I had been home schooled and lived in dorms at UP, so living in intentional community was appealing. I wanted to learn about a life of spirituality, one that showed a more varied experience of faith and religion than I had had growing up in a devout Catholic household.
I didn’t really know what to expect. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to interact with core members. I was worried about being a good team member and knowing how to help in the right way. I was in a low place emotionally, worrying about some friends with mental illness, and I entered during a time of relative chaos at Nehalem House, with several assistant transitions and Marilyn breaking her ankle the night I arrived so the first few weeks were tough.
AG: What do you find most rewarding and most difficult about living in community?
KT: I love seeing how different people access their spirituality – Erin likes to sing, Adam likes to engage with people wherever he goes, and Marilyn lights candles and prays. I have fallen in love with the way people live at L’Arche Portland. It is amazingly beautiful in its own way. The thing that was most difficult was dealing with different personalities at first. But I've learned to be a better communicator because of my time in community.
AG: What has surprised you most?
KT: I am most surprised by how I identify with everyone at L’Arche. I have never felt such kinship. I have never had a friend like Corrine (fellow assistant and community coordinator), for example. It’s a friendship built on trust and struggle and fun and silliness and real and raw things. I look at Joni sometimes and want to cry, not out of compassion or sympathy for her, but because I want to live into what I feel the way she does. Joni doesn’t hide herself or her emotions, and her expressions clearly show her experience in any moment.
AG: What have you learned about yourself and others?
KT: L'Arche Portland has taught me to be more open and accept my vulnerability. I try to look into myself and find the parts that can express that. We also have practice of sharing “grains of truth” as a way to better communicate and work through issues. It's helped me see other people’s points of view and helped me be honest with myself about the positives and negatives of any situation. What I’ve learned about others is that L’Arche attracts beautiful people. I think about how Joni met Alba at church. She was crying over the loss of her brother, and Joni just reached out and gave her a big hug. Alba was pulled into the L’Arche Portland volunteer family from that first hug.
AG: What is one story you will keep with you about your time in community?
KT: I had just gotten back to Nehalem House from a terrible weekend. I was not in a good mood. Adam came into my room with his head in his hands and told me Grandma Bobbie “got sick.” I knew from previous experience that this may or may not mean she had passed away, which it turns out she had. Adam told me how he loved and missed Grandma Bobbie but that he’d had a nice walk on the beach with his mom. Adam had sought me out to process his grief and share it with me, and it helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one who had sadness. We were just holding that sadness and sharing it together. Adam taught me to reach out when I need support.
AG: How has your transition to live-out assistant been and what are your plans for the future?
KT: I got used to waking up and 6 am and starting the morning. I had my routine, and it’s been weirdly upsetting to have it changed. I held and still hold a lot of fears around separation from the rest of the team, and I’m still trying to figure out that balance. I hear “I miss you” from Marilyn and Adam a lot, even though they still see me almost every day. Troy and I are trying to find a farm to purchase. I love this community and want to be involved with them and we are hoping that our farm will be a way to engage and support core members and assistants somehow.
AG: Do you have any last thoughts to share with us that we didn't cover?
KT: Just that living L’Arche takes a lot and you give a lot, but it doesn’t feel like it because you want to. What you receive is so much more.