Reflections from the L'Arche Atlanta House Assistants
L'Arche Atlanta's house assistants live out the mission of L'Arche every day. Their interactions with our Core Members tell the stories of the joy of sharing friendship with adults with disabilities. We'll be highlighting their stories here from time to time.
We wake up and start our routines with foggy eyes and murmuring to ourselves. It is mostly silent except for doorknobs creaking and feet shuffling on the floor. John sits at the end of his bed and says to me through the stupor, “Good morning.” He sits on his bed, savoring the slow drift from sleep. He pauses in this transition before entering the day, knowing it will clip steadily along until it’s spent. John exhales and pulls himself up, purposefully heading into the common space.
Nearing the front room, he greets Terry, who sits straight-backed and cross-legged, meditating or possibly sleeping in the deep-cushioned chair. John hollers a greeting into the kitchen while Corbin makes a pot of coffee. John’s words are missed or misheard, meshed behind the coffee grinder’s mechanical whir. Patrick sets himself a place at the table and waits for four toaster oven beeps, signaling there’s peanut butter to be spread. John takes his usual seat with a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs.
Today, every day, the table holds our first-glance experiences of ourselves and each other. It serves as a setting for talk and eating, for fuel and centering, a place where we process our lives together. We bring our unceremonious encounters of joy and gratitude along with our honest anxieties and small irritations to the table and to each other. All are welcome to this table where our individual and unique rhythms intersect, and our unity is born anew each day.
John is one of the longest-standing members of L’Arche Atlanta’s daily life, and one of the first to encourage these sorts of conversations, exemplifying what it means to reflect and invite reflection from others. He finds room for growth, actively reimagining what it looks like to live meaningfully with the people he’s committed to. The day ahead will hold any number of phone calls with friends, brainstorming sessions over hot chocolate, and leading the community in evening songs of gratitude. In all of this, he fosters a place of belonging, intrinsically knowing that the beauty of community exists in the blend of our unique and shared rhythms.
When breakfast concludes, Patrick and Terry head out to either work or exercise. Corbin’s routine includes anything from bagpipe practice to cooking with friends. A little later, John’s on his way to make calls at the L’Arche office, or to volunteer, spending his time sorting through thrift store donation troves. These individual and communal rhythms fill each of our days; we flow with them and come back together around the dinner table. We discuss what we’ve experienced, then head to our own spaces to rest, until we find ourselves in the next day again.
Grason Reflects on Terry's Ability to Find & Create A Place of Belonging
Terry creates a place of belonging wherever he goes,
including the basketball court.
Living well in community requires each member to know, be known, and be affected by every other member. If this mutual understanding does not exist—if one member chooses to set up barriers to keep others at arm’s length—the community is deprived of the unique gifts that person may have to offer. The deep mutual trust for which many communities hope may take a long time to be established.
Terry is a thriving member of L’Arche Atlanta because he not only knows the people in his community, he’s truly committed to them, allowing himself to trust and be affected by them. Through his hospitable spirit, he invites others to join in the full life made possible by trusting and knowing one another.
It is difficult to quantify Terry’s quality of life in L’Arche. So much of his trusting and affection resides in small, seemingly unimportant moments. Should we mention Terry’s love for crunchy peanut butter as he generously spreads it across slices of bread, with every fondness in his eyes? Or expressing the hustle that accompanies each shot and rebound on the YMCA basketball court, as if a paycheck and press conference were to follow? Is there a meaningful way to convey the importance and care from Terry when he crafts a mixtape for one of his housemates, or cleans up a mess he didn’t spill? These instances can seem too insignificant to offer as evidence of meaningful living, but they are the moments in which Terry invites his fellow community members to be known and affected by him.
Terry maximizes the potential of each given day. He plans trips and excursions, listing what will happen and who will be there, with the clear intent to expand his life and the community’s well-being as a whole. He allows himself to be affected by others—patting a fallen toddler on the back after they are righted, he offers an affirming “You’ll feel better soon.” When a day has turned out to be less than ideal, Terry still allows himself to appreciate it for what it has to offer.
This past fall, Terry was given the opportunity to showcase some of his life in L’Arche with a couple of new friends from Today.com. During the few days that they were around, Terry hospitably invited his guests to see what his life was like. He talked about and drew pictures of housemates and friends, giving insight to the inherent mutuality he’s established between himself and the world. At one point in the interview he was asked, “Who loves Terry?” His answer was that he loves Terry—that everyone loves Terry. His response reveals the space that Terry has made for himself and others at L’Arche: a space to belong, a space to call home.
Becca's Retreat in Trosly, France
Laura and Becca pose with a sign that says 'la ferme', which is 'the farm, in French.
Becca, one of our house assistants, and Laura, one of our faithful friends, went on an 11-day retreat in Trosly, France, the place where L'Arche was founded. Below she shares a reflection from the experience.
Founding stories have an important place in the history and identity of communities, and the story of L’Arche is one that I have heard and retold many times. For those unfamiliar with the origin of L’Arche, it’s a story of a tiny spark that spread to communities around the world. In 1964 Jean Vanier, a former naval officer, found himself seeking a more intentional way to live & interact with the world. He visited an institution for people with disabilities and was so heartbroken by the conditions he witnessed there that he invited three men to live with him in the small town of Trosly, France. From that household, the movement of L’Arche began. This story, as often as I’ve heard it, has taken on the surreal essence of a fairytale.
Last month, I had the opportunity to experience our L’Arche history in a way that made it so much more real to me. I spent 11 days on a retreat in the tiny town of Trosly along with Laura, a Faithful Friend of L’Arche Atlanta, and members of L’Arche communities from all over the world. Being in the place where the very first L’Arche community shared life together transformed the story of our founding from a fairytale into something I could see and touch. The Trosly community, which is still active and vibrant, gave us a beautiful glimpse into their daily life. Some of the core members that I met tend sheep on the L’Arche farm, some assemble product packaging, and others create mosaics for the artisan shop. The day to day rhythms of the community are vastly different than our life here at L’Arche Atlanta, but the foundation of mutual relationship is still the same- community members support one another, tell jokes, and gather together for meals and prayer at the end of the day.
Over the course of the 11 days, Laura and I found a new community among the other people on our retreat. We were a group of 38 people from 17 countries, who spoke many different languages. A couple of people were Assistants like me; most were Volunteers, House Coordinators, Community Leaders, and Board Members. We were from different generations and many had been with L’Arche for decades. But we all shared a common history and every person there had been transformed by relationships in their L’Arche communities.
Our retreat community formed in an unusual way- through shared silence. We listened to reflections given by our retreat facilitators, participated in liturgies, and met in small groups each day, but the rest of the time in Trosly- meals, personal time, prayer- was silent. Although it was a challenge at times, the silence was an incredible gift to our new community. I found myself sitting with different people at meals, unconcerned by the language or cultural differences that otherwise may have made small talk challenging. I wasn’t intimidated by people I normally would have considered to be “more important” in L’Arche. We were all experiencing this retreat together, in ways that transcended the usual chatter that we rely on in our normal lives. The silence erased barriers that often prevent me from entering transformative relationships. In a way, this was the “L’Archiest” thing about the retreat. L’Arche calls us to rethink how we share ourselves and create relationships with one another. As communities that welcome people who think, act, and communicate in different ways, we are challenged to think beyond words to form friendships. By sharing a meal together. By taking walks. By singing songs in languages that we don’t understand. When we allow ourselves to communicate creatively, we can reach a more authentic understanding of one another. We begin to speak with the “language of the heart” that is the common foundation of L’Arche relationships around the world.