Monday, October 26, 2015

a simple dinner party

Last week, our community had five volunteers from a college stay with us and volunteer their time in our homes and day programs as part of a service learning trip. Two of them stayed and helped out at the house where I live, while the other three shared time at our other houses. During the day, they were involved in other things, such as helping at our day programs, or participating in formation and small group discussions. In the evenings they would come back to the house to spend time with our core members and to help out in other ways.

Another group of seven volunteers from the same college stayed at another site in Kansas City. One of the evenings that the volunteers were here, our house hosted all five that were staying in our community, as well as the seven at the other site. We set up an extra table end-to-end with our regular dining room table, and sixteen people sat around it enjoying a nice dinner and some fun conversation about all of the things they had been experiencing that week.

At one point, David, one of the core members, excused himself from the table and took his plate into the kitchen. After putting it in the dishwasher, he went upstairs to his room where I assumed he was going to stay and listen to his music or watch TV.

A few minutes later he came back downstairs bringing with him his karaoke machine. The conversation began to diminish as we all turned to see what he was doing. David sat the karaoke machine down in the corner of the room and plugged it into the wall. Taking the microphone in his hand, and turning it on, he turned and began to address the rest of us in the room.

He started by welcoming everyone, and then said that he was going to be handing out some awards. As he said this, he gestured to the top of the nearby china cabinet where his sand art collection was displayed. One of David's favorite hobbies is making sand art using colored sand and small, clear, plastic bottles. He buys kits from the store and will spend entire afternoons at the dining room table layering different colors of sand into bottles of different shapes and sizes.

One by one, he called each of the volunteers forward, starting with those who had been staying in our community, and presented them with a carefully selected sand art bottle. After the five of them had graciously received their awards, he began calling forward the volunteers we had just met that evening. Each person present in the room received one of his sand art creations, as well as some kind and affirming words. By some coincidence, or perhaps there was some other force at work, he had just enough bottles for everyone present.

The awards were simply small plastic bottles, filled with colored sand. It's hard to say how long they had been sitting on top of the china cabinet. But, in that moment, they became items of special worth. The reactions of the volunteers, as they were called forth and received one of the bottles, was as if they had won something of significance. The mood in the room changed from one of casual conversation to one of celebration and excitement. All of this was because David, a man with Down's Syndrome, decided it was time for an awards ceremony.

That evening was a tangible example of what L'Arche does. The simple became significant. People were recognized as special and loved and deserving of praise. Not because of anything that they had achieved, but simply because they were there. A simple dinner party turned into a time of celebration and joy, because of the love of a core member. And this all happened because David, a man with Down's Syndrome, who might be considered by many people in the world as not having much to offer, was able to recognize and share it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

You're In Here

Every week here at L'Arche Heartland, the entire community gathers in one of our homes for our Prayer Night. At these gatherings, we share a meal, then have some sort of discussion or activity, and then we share any prayer concerns that we have. A few weeks ago, it was my turn to lead the activity and since the focus was on helping each other honor the relationships that are important to us, I thought it would be fun to have each person make a "family tree" where we could write or draw all of the people who are important in our lives. I told the group that they could include whoever they wanted on their family trees, whether they were relatives or friends. They could include anybody who they felt was important in their lives. So we spent some time creating our family trees and then we went around and whoever wanted to share theirs with the group was able.

Afterwards, as we were cleaning up and milling about, Alex, one of our core members, came over to me and held up his family tree to show me. Now, Alex and I lived together for two years and since I have moved to one of our other houses we will still often spend time together. As I glanced over  his tree I saw his mom and brothers were listed, and then there were other people who I knew weren't biological family. "Wait a minute," I said, giving him a hard time. "I don't see my name on here!"

Without missing a beat, Alex looked at me, pointed at his heart and said, "But you're in here."

That is a gift of living in community in L'Arche. People who might not have gotten the opportunity to meet, who come from many different places, choose to live together and relationships are formed. Bonds are built between people of different ages and abilities. Though we might not be biologically related, and we might not have a place on one another's actual family trees, through our lives together we make room for each other in our hearts. We come with the intention of helping other people, and we end up in relationship with them and loving them.

So, I'm ok with being left off of Alex's family tree on that piece of paper, because here in L'Arche I've become family with him where it matters, in our hearts.