L'Arche is meant to be a place where people with developmental disabilites can find a home for the rest of their lives. So, then, what does it mean when one decides that it is no longer the place he wants to call home?
This is something I've been pondering the last few months. A core member who has lived with us here at L'Arche Heartland for 10 years has made the decision that it is no longer the place for him. With the help of his case manager he has explored other alternatives and at the end of this month will be moving into an apartment run by a residential service provider in town.
L'Arche is good, but it isn't perfect. It's not the right place for everyone. Assistants come and go. Some are here for a short time, others for a relatively long time. It is rare, these days, for an assistant to commit to L'Arche for their lifetime. And we understand that. We might be sad when an assistant decides to leave, but we understand that they are moving on to the next step in their journey and we send them off with our love and best wishes.
So, then, why do we assume that every core member will want to spend the rest of their life in L'Arche? Why do we view it as a failure on our part, that we weren't able to provide them what they needed, if they decide to go? Granted, in my experience it hasn't been common for a core member to decide to leave, but does that have to mean it is a bad thing?
The founding story of L'Arche talks about Jean Vanier welcoming Pierre and Phillipe into his house and sharing life with them. But the part that often gets left out is that there was a third person who moved in, another core member named Dani. But it became apparent that L'Arche was not the right place for Dani, and he ended up going back to where he had been before. This part of the story doesn't often get shared. I think many people think it tarnishes the beautiful story. But does it really?
I think it shares the very human nature of L'Arche. We aren't a solution, we aren't able to save everyone. We are just a sign of hope that life can be lived differently, that beautiful things dwell in unlikely places, that everyone deserves to have a community that loves and supports them. It isn't perfect. L'Arche can only do so much, and sometimes what we can do isn't what is needed or wanted.
That is what I've been reminding myself these past few weeks, and what I will cling to during these days of our core member's transition. We are not perfect, but we were good for him for a time. He's now decided that another living situation is what he needs, and that doesn't mean that we've failed. It means that we have been his home, recognized his gifts, celebrated his life, and done our best to love him while he was with us.
And that, to me, is the opposite of failure.