Something happened to me at Roseanne’s birthday party. She can not sit up on her own let alone stand our walk. She does not speak. She can not feed herself and she can only eat soft foods. She is someone who many people see far more quickly as an “it” than a “hello my name is….” Her birthday party is one of those moments I can point back to and say, this is the moment that changed my life.
The people of L’Arche know how to celebrate. They know something about gifts. They know something about friendship, and most importantly, they know something about Roseanne. It is the practice of this particular community to take time at the end of the birthday dinner to go around the table and each person shares a little bit about how the guest of honor has been a gift that year.
With a guest like Roseanne, it is understandable that most of us might find it a challenge to name the gifts of the person who needs assistance around the clock. She doesn’t do chores, doesn’t have debates, doesn’t send thank you cards. SO what kinds of gifts would people come up with.
Well, no one had to come up with anything. The knew here for who she was. The knew the differences between her joyful eyes and her peaceful eyes as well as her angry ones. They had the experience of having Roseanne play a joke on them even if just by pretending to be asleep. They know what made her angry. They know she loved certain people in a unique way we probably don’t have a name for. They know what foods she loved and that she knew how, and loved to pray. This things could not have been more obvious to those who had lived with her, those who had committed to listening for her voice, seeing her beauty and welcoming her gifts.
That’s one of the moments I knew I was in a place that could hold my shaky heart. I spend most of my life afraid I talk too much but will not be heard. I love too much but will never be taken seriously. I try too hard but will never have anything to give. While I, like most people, worrying there would never be anyone who could “get me,” here was a room full of pros. These people got each other and gave each other. No one here was doing anyone any favors. They were just learning to give and receive whatever it was they had. Home.
I was going to be ok here.
If you have read this far, this is the point. This is the moment to listen: everyone has gifts. You have gifts. They can be seen felt and recognized. But they aren’t always and I thin that is our deepest anguish in this world.
I think we are most at ease when the weakest and smallest among us are welcomed and celebrated. So if you find yourself homesick because there is no one to welcome you, build a home of small things. FInd the beauty in the ones others don’t see. I promise you will be building a place that can hold your shaky heart.
*This is my reflection from life in community written in the spirit of a book by the same name. Sue Mosteller from the L’Arche community in Toronto has collected several of these beautiful tales so you can be sure such a life really exists.