by Robin Benedict, L'Arche Assistant
I knew Rodney for the final two years his life, and shared daily life with him for his final year and half at the Neahkahnie house. From the moment I first walked in the door, other assistants and core members started teaching me a strange artform of how to live well with ‘the old man’. It seemed like everyone else in the house was in some kind of intricate, delicate, and circular dance with him that lasted the whole day, and sometimes the whole night too.
Day after day, week after week, Rodney would slowly roam in his wheelchair from one end of the house to the other, looking for someone to share his state of mind with. He had a lot to share. Rod could inhabit the whole range of human emotion in less than five minutes. He shared celebration, suspicion, appreciation, blame, contentment, frustration, songs, curses, befuddled stares, and quiet disapproving shakes of the head sometimes all in the same interaction. It was very difficult to change his mood and was equally difficult to redirect him from his circular wanderings in the house. So throughout the day you had to float in and out of his path, sometimes literally dancing, sometimes singing, sometimes tip-toeing to avoid being noticed, sometimes just silently mimicking his gestures. Then the next morning Rod’s circular pilgrimage would begin again. As exhausting as it was, participating in that bizarre dance was one of the great privileges of my life. I experienced it as an invitation into God’s upside down kingdom, where instead of power, vulnerability, is the cornerstone of human life.
In one of Jean Vanier’s books, he said “even the most beautiful community can never heal the wound of loneliness that we carry. It is when we discover that this loneliness can become a sacrament that we touch wisdom…when we stop fleeing into work and activity, noise and illusion, and when we remain conscious of our wound…we will meet God.” I think Rodney found the kind of wisdom Vanier was talking about, he remained ‘conscious’ of his wounds til the end, and by his steadfast refusal to hide his pain made space in his life to encounter God. Thank you for all the ways in which you have been witness to that encounter, and I hope it will inspire and encourage you on your own ‘journey home’.