Living Life, Abundantly at L’Arche Ireland
To love someone
is to reveal to them their capacities for life,
the light that is shining in them.
I had a blog for a few years. The title being, Living Life, Abundantly, which later I found to be a bit ironic. I was missing the abundance all around me as I sat staring at the computer screen, writing feelings and thoughts about people and things around me so that people who were not around me could read them. Rarely did I get down to it and just share what I was feeling with those present.
Being one attracted to those precious moments in life where instant gratification is actually attainable, I reacted to this realization by simultaneously deleting my Facebook account as well as my personal blog, leading many to frantically email and wonder what in the world I was doing with my life by “going off the grid.”
This was an obvious reaction from many — as I grew up in Ohio, and lived in Washington state and now Ireland. Ireland, this wondrous and mysterious land of beauty and green, came into my life quite by chance. I was unemployed and feeling pressure (better read as “my dad wanted me to go to graduate school”). When one day I found myself at my favorite coffee shop reading a Henri Nouwen book about his time in L’Arche, an organization of intentional communities with adults with disabilities. I took a look at my life and summed it up in two words that got my imagination flowing: unemployed and single.
A few weeks later I found myself wandering through a city with my father when he brought up graduate school, yet again, and my reply was, “I’m actually thinking about applying to live in a L’Arche community abroad” to which he replied, “Cool.” I put this into my memory bank of good advice from Dad (which there are endless mental files of) and sent a few emails, which ended with me on a plane landing in a country I’ve never been with a suitcase full of clothes and with no expectations.
The “no expectations” part of my journey was key. Within hours of arriving to my new home, I realized that had I any, they would have been dashed and smashed beyond recognition. I had paid a therapist for two years to continually hear her tell me to “slow down.” Suddenly, I was standing at the bottom of the stairs waiting for Michael, whose name is changed for reasons of privacy, to make his way down the stairs to a ready-made breakfast that was already beginning to cool as he took step by slow step by slow step. Then he paused, and went back upstairs to change his socks. Hours after waking him that morning, a cold breakfast consumed, we made our way through town to work at a turtle’s pace. Only then did I recognize the beauty of this moment; he, 65 years of age and having outlived most with Down syndrome, tipped his hat at people who passed him by and embraced and smiled at those friends of his we met along the way.
What in the world was I rushing off to work for anyway, when it made me pass by these people, these neighbors, these new and old friends in this amazing and unique thing we call life. Later that night I laughed to myself as Michael and I slowly, and together, washed him for bed. I made sure his socks were on to his liking and that his pillow was arranged just right. There is no rush, I breathed to myself, as he stopped, took a look at me, and put his hand on my head and sang to himself, “Lord have mercy.” The perfect blessing to end the day.
There are days that I forget all that I have learned so far, but I am always thankful for the realization when I come back to the present. When I stray and rush to whatever I have next on my to-do list, which I have the tendency to try and make longer, and immediately am brought back down to reality by those like Michael. This morning I rushed into his room while one of the other assistants was waking him up. I asked her a question, dashed back out, and only later did she tell me what had happened as soon as I left the room. Michael, still in bed, looked up after I left the room (without actually having acknowledged him at all in my need to rush) and said, “Hello!” I turned to him as Joanna told me this story over breakfast. He just smiled at me, said hello, and patted me on the head. I took a breath as he and I embraced, and thought of all the important things that I had on my mind to do today, and quickly the list dissappeared as I sat with my good friend Michael and sipped (instead of gulped) my morning coffee.