“Allan” greeted me at the door with an enthusiasm that frankly would have scared me if it hadn’t made me so happy to be alive. He was in his late fifties 6’3″ thin like a coat rack with a smile that made his eyes disappear. This time of year I can only think to call him jolly. Allan has a unique way of lighting up a place. It was hard for me to believe that he was anything other than a ray of light, but he once was something else, which only makes his story that much more beautiful…
Allan and I were off to run errands: buy DVD, get haircut, new gloves, home. First the DVD store. Allan had a fondness for family animal movies. He had been enthusiastically saving for a copy of Babe. I was glad to discover that they knew him at the DVD store. He was so excited about finally owning his own copy of Babe that he reached over the counter and hugged the sales person. The sales person hugged him right back. You could tell he was just getting used to that whole “hugging thing,” but Allan seemed like a good excuse to give it a whirl. This was something the sales person clearly wanted to want to do. Next was the barber. I was glad to discover that they knew him at the barber because he loved his haircut so much that he hugged the barber. Next we went to get his new gloves. I was glad to discover that they knew him… You get the idea.
Allan melts hearts, lights rooms, makes me laugh, carries luggage, plays tricks, and smiles fiercely, and constantly told me I am a good guy. A lot. All the time. Allan is clearly happy and happy to be who he is. That’s why I found it so hard to believe that he used to live an angry and sometimes violent life. Before Allan came, to live at a L’Arche community he had lived in a publicly run institution.
As part of his former life people were often referred to by some combination of their appearances and the ward in which they lived. Names were a luxury. Dignity was sustained often by the sheer will of the people who lived there. Back then Allan was not the Allan that near strangers welcomed into their arms with joy. He was angry, and he was treated like he was mad.
His transition to living in community was not an easy one. He had to accept new responsibilities, had to grieve the years he lived without dignity, and had to discover who he was. He did. His anger, his pain, stemmed mostly from he gifts not being welcomed. But when they were it was a revolution that still calls those around him to a deeper life of love. It is shocking to think a man with such great gifts, such power to transform hearts of even strangers, was once treated like a burden.
Yet I sometimes think we are quicker to treat each other as if we are mad, rather than gifted. They say a goldfish will only grow as large as the bowl can take. People won’t grown into the the wonder that they are if they aren’t invited into that space.
Once, Allan would force himself into your space, in an anguish of needing to be desired. Now his strong arms are an open circle inviting you to be the wonder that you are. He made me think I was wonderful. Its changed me. Its changing me again as I write this.
One reading of O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi is that it is a tragedy of people sacrificing the wrong things and end up empty. Another reading is that in taking excessive risks of love, they were left with more than what could fit in a box. Give excessively. Receive joyfully. Both parts are necessary for us to be the gifts we are meant to be.
There is enough here: plenty to give, plenty to receive. …Which gives us plenty room to be.