One of the organizations whose page I "like" on facebook shared a picture a while ago that was accompanied by a quote that has been sticking in my head. The picture was of three African women walking hand in hand and the quote was an African proverb that said, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
I feel like this could be a slogan for life in a L'Arche community. Life in L'Arche is not usually face paced. It is filled with moments where we take some time to pause. Perhaps it's to spend some time together in prayer. It could be helping a core member to prepare supper, or taking a moment to administer medications, or helping someone in the shower, or sitting down at the table as a group to plan the menu for the next week, or maybe it's saying a prayer with a core member at bedtime.
Life moves at a different speed in L'Arche. In the outside world, people speed in their cars to get to the places they need to be. People get upset if they have to wait too long in the line at the grocery store or the post office. We want to be where we need to be without any waiting.
But in L'Arche, it's a slower pace. Sometimes it's because it takes someone longer to physically move from one place to another. Or it's because they need assistance with everyday tasks. Or it could be because they want to stop and talk to everyone they see.
I attended the L'Arche International General Assembly in Atlanta almost a year ago now. It was comforting and reassuring, and even a bit humorous, to see that despite all of the differences that we might have had as people coming together from 40 different countries around the world, one of the things we had in common was that we never seemed hurried. We moved at our own pace. Some of the people from other countries moved at an even slower pace, because they always needed to stop for tea time... But that's another story.
While it was reassuring to see that this slower pace was something we had in common, sometimes it can be frustrating. When you want to get somewhere at a certain time, or you want the group to get somewhere quickly, it can be irritating to have to wait. It can be maddening when you are on a schedule and you want to make sure to get there on time and no matter how much you poke and prod and encourage people to move at a quicker pace, they keep going at their own pace. And sometimes, the poking and prodding just makes them slow down, either out of frustration or because you've become another distraction!
Before I came to L'Arche, it was easy for me to do whatever I wanted when I wanted. I could suddenly decide to go to the store and then just get up and go. I could walk into the store, find what I wanted, pay for it and leave. It was a quick and easy adventure.
Now, if we decide to go to the store, I have to get everyone motivated. Then I have to make sure that everyone can find their shoes, and maybe put on a jacket. After we walk out to the van, we have to decide whose turn it is to ride in the front seat. Once we've made that decision and actually got in the van, then we have to make sure everyone has their seat belts on. When everyone is secured we can start the van and leave. When we get to the store, we have to find the things that are on our list. This is often interspersed with people finding other things they would like, which we then have to have a discussion about whether we can get them or not. Once we've managed to get everything on our list (plus a few other things, as well as returning a bunch of items we don't need to the shelves), we go to the cash register. We all help put the items on the conveyor belt, and once everything is paid for, we distribute the bags so that everyone is helping carry. Then we try to leave, which can often involve telling someone that they need to stop talking to the cashier and let her get back to work, and that we need to walk out to the van. Once we get to the van, we put all of the groceries in the back, and then we have to have another discussion about whose turn it is to ride in the front seat. Then we get in, make sure everyone is buckled in, and we drive home.
One might think that the first example of a trip to the store is the easier one. And perhaps it is. But that doesn't mean that it's the better one. It's only better if you place a high value on being efficient. Many people do, but in L'Arche being efficient is valued less then some other things, like relationship and community and inclusion. Making sure that everyone is included as much as they can be, that each person feels as if they are a part of the group, and that no one gets left behind because they move at a different pace are all values of living in L'Arche and are all things that can cause you to move much more slowly.
Life in a L'Arche community might not be the fastest way to live. It might not always be the most efficient, either. But there is something about life in community that makes the journey seem more bearable, because we know we are not alone. We have friends and loved ones and family to help us bear the burdens and to carry our load. We know that if we stumble or fall there is always someone there to give us a hand and help us to our feet. We know if we lose our way there is always someone there to call us back to the group. We know that no matter where we are headed, or might end up, that we will never be there on our own.
We might not be able to get where we are going quickly, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that we get where we are going together.