We inevitably live in a culture filled with fear and shame. We are incredibly individualistic, yet paradoxically expected to fit in a box. Mainstream culture pressures us to look, feel, and live a certain way-the way we see portrayed in TV, magazines, movies, etc (this is my sociology background firing up! I could go into a much more cynical societal critique, but will refrain. :) ). There is little to no room for people who have more visible or prominent disabilities-we are all disabled, broken, in some way-in this society that we have created. This is deeply saddening to me and I acknowledge that it affects me on a daily basis. It takes time, energy, hard inner work, prayer and the support of community to push back against this. L’Arche serves as a beacon of light, shining bright, offering a new alternative to how we might interact in a more loving and accepting way towards ourselves, others, and God.
It is amazing how growing this year has been for me. Freedom has been a recurring theme; deeply powerful. I find a new freedom within myself to walk confidently, slowly and peaceably. To live into my interests, hopes and dreams. To communicate my fears and feels. To acknowledge my failures and interact with them. To release fear of other’s opinions and comparisons. To push back against shame. To trust more deeply in the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit within and around me. To put my hope in a God that is much more diverse and creative than I could ever comprehend.
I am deeply grateful to know these L’Arche homes and the people in them. And I recognize this process of growth is never-ending. Here’s to freedom and growth!
On Monday, my dear friend, Rodney, and I had the opportunity to go on an outing for the morning to what has become my favorite coffee shop in Portland. Tabor Space Coffee House is located inside of a beautiful stone walled Presbyterian Church right next to Mt. Tabor. Apparently, the congregation is rather small, about 100 people regularly on Sundays. But the space is utilized throughout the week for group classes (church-related and not), children’s music lessons, and meeting spaces, among many other events and gatherings. There is a large, room adjacent to the sanctuary filled with chairs and large wooden tables where people go to meet, read, write and enjoy coffee and snacks. It is open, bright -with filtered light coming in through large stained glass windows- and overall very friendly. I consider it a place of peace and restoration and have had several deeply meaningful journaling sessions there this year. Sometimes, the organist is practicing which fills the space with a fitting, holy melody.
Rodney and I had a real joyous time there together. From the get-go, the wheelchair ride up the steep ramp into the entrance got both of us laughing (and me sweating!). Rodney ordered his usual Italian Soda, and a peanut butter cookie. We situated ourselves at one of the tables in the middle of the room; Rodney with his paper and crayons and me with my book. Between drawing, reading, chatting, and people watching, we were both quite content.
Two men in particular caught Rod’s eye. The first was an older fellow who strolled in with a baseball cap on his graying head and newspaper in hand. Rodney did a full 180 turn to look at this guy. Pointing and laughing, saying, “he’s got a hat!” and “there’s an old man!”. The gentleman looked up curiously a couple of times, but didn’t seem to make much of Rodney’s fixation on him. One things I’ve grown in from being this past year at L’Arche is to allow the core members to be themselves and not worry about how others will respond. Rodney brings a certain freedom wherever he goes that I have learned to embrace rather than try to control. Instead of getting uncomfortable or embarrassed, I turned to Rodney and joked, “you’re an old man yourself, Rod!”
The second fellow towards whom Rodney directed his attention appeared to be a working business man. Between typing away on his computer, jotting in a notebook, and taking phone calls on his cell, he appeared busy and almost frantic to me. For some reason, Rodney kept staring at this man from across the room, only to be received by slightly unsettled glares back. As we were packing up to go, Rodney stated that he’d like to give the drawing he had been working on to the guy. We made our way over there and Rodney handed the paper to this guy stating excitedly, “you keep it!”. Taking his reading glasses off, the gentleman looked up at Rod with an almost resigned look in his eyes and said a short, “thank you”.
Who knows what that man did with the drawing, but this seemed to me a powerful moment of connection that Rod forged by his thoughtful offering of sharing a piece of himself with this complete stranger.
Robyn has been teaching me a lot lately. Yesterday, I spent a good 20 minutes trying to reason with Robyn why she should come inside from digging in the garden (an activity that she loves!) to come in and shower before dinner. We both inevitably found ourselves very frustrated. She was close to tears and saying she needed time alone. I was feeling discouraged, frustrated and at a loss for words. So I went inside and began working on other tasks. I asked Nicole to perhaps go outside to see if a fresh face would be encouraging, and she agreed to once she finished cleaning the bathroom. In that time though something else came up unexpectedly that quickly grabbed Nicole’s attention. In the instant Nicole left, I heard the side door open and Robyn came in looking for “that girl”. Not “Miss Cole”, or “Belana”, but Hannah! She walked in with her shovel in hand and had a small worm she wanted to show me. I was overjoyed to see that worm. We examined it, celebrated it, then went out to the worm bin and re-located the worm to be with other friends. Afterwards, I looked at her and asked, “would you like to shower now?” “Yeah”, she said simply. And we walked back inside.
A peace offering. A small, dirty, wriggling worm that spoke volumes without the use of words. Robyn is teaching me a lot indeed. She demonstrates to me how to listen and speak with heart, emotion, and gesture, rather than what I tend towards – wordy explanation or intellect. Once again I find myself humbled and amazed by how much I have to learn in this world!
Going on bike rides with Adam is one of my favorite things in the world to do. We had the privilege of doing this together one warm, sunny afternoon recently. Adam was hoping to get a treat somewhere, so we biked down the road to a nearby coffee shop that sells tasty cookies in addition to coffee. As we locked up our bikes on the rack, a gentleman sitting outside looked at us and asked, “You two must be from that home down the road?” We said, yes, we are from L’Arche. “Come on in! Let me buy you your treat” he exclaimed without hesitation as he motioned us inside. The look on Adam’s face when I explained to him that he could put his wallet away and didn’t have to pay radiated exuberant joy. So much so that when he entered Bipartisan, he began applauding, his hands held in the air above his head, drawing the quizzical and amused stares of every single person in the café.
Before ordering his cookie, Adam walked up to the kind man, a complete stranger, and gave him a bear hug. The baristas were smiling by now, patient with us as we picked our treats: Adam a molasses cookie and me a gluten free chocolate chip. The gentleman laid a $20 on the counter and told the lady behind the counter to keep the change. The three of us proceeded outside with our snacks. In conversation, it turns out Matt has a sister in Chicago who experiences down syndrome. They had visited a L’Arche home before and the community holds a special place in his heart. It also turns out Matt used to teach at George Fox. The beautiful, interconnected surprises of life demonstrated through simple and random acts of kindness astounded and humbled me that day. Thank you, Matt. And thank you Adam for sharing that sweet moment with me and in doing so, inviting the whole of Bipartisan to partake in our surprise and joy.
An Archival Print
God snaps your picture- don’t look away-
this room right now, your face tilted
exactly as it is before you can think
or control it. Go ahead, let it betray
all the secret emergencies and still hold
that partial disguise you call your character.
Even your lip, they say, the way it curves
or doesn’t, or can’t decide, will deliver
bales of evidence. The camera, wide open,
stands ready; the exposure is thirty-five years
or so-after that you have become
whatever the veneer is, all the way through.
Now you want to explain. Your mother
was a certain- how to express it?-influence.
Yes. And your father, whatever he was,
you couldn’t change that. No. And your town
of course had its limits. Go on, keep talking-
Hold it. Don’t move. That’s you forever.