Did you know that December 3rd is the 30th United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities?
In its honour, I've decided to moodle about my L'Arche friend, Lizzie (a pseudonym for internet purposes). Lizzie has been part of the L'Arche community for as long as I've known it. She has striking auburn hair and a huge smile, and she loves people. She's one of our community's meeters and greeters. If you come to one of our events, you can't miss her for her level of enthusiasm and excitement.
Just over a month ago, something special happened for Lizzie, as she was celebrated as a confirmed member of L'Arche Edmonton. She went through a special process to determine whether she felt a sense of belonging to the community, to discern whether she felt called to live in L'Arche as a long-term vocation, and to discover how she planned to help her community to grow. She was confirmed in her calling as a member, and we celebrated her membership at our General Body Meeting in October.
What a celebration it was! As it happened, we had quite a few visitors and guests from the L'Arche Western Region present, and Lizzie's sister came, too. What really stood out for me was Lizzie's excitement, even before the meeting began. Though she had lived in the community for many years, this was a special step, and she knew it! She was more than ready and willing to become a confirmed member. When it came time for the membership ceremony, Lizzie was invited to stand in the middle of the room, and before she was asked if she really wanted to be a member, even before the question was on the lips of the person who was to ask it, Lizzie announced loudly, "Yes! Yes I do. I wanna be a member." Everyone present had to smile, and Lizzie's great joy filled the room and all of us as we sang a blessing over her a few moments later.
Belonging to a community or a family is never easy. It requires commitment and determination to get through the rough spots, tireless communication, and a perpetual willingness to forgive and ask forgiveness. Belonging can be especially difficult for people with disabilities. Jean Vanier, L'Arche's founder, has given much thought to and speaks many words about belonging. These are just a few words from his 1998 Massey Lecture:
Belonging is the place where we grow to maturity and discover what it means to be human and to act in a human way. It is a place we need in order to live and to act in society in justice, in truth, without seeking power, privileges, and honours for our own self-glory. It is the place where we learn to be humble but also audacious and to take initiatives in working with others. It is the place where our deepest self rises up into our consciousness and so we become more fully ourselves, more fully human.
It can be difficult for people with developmental disabilities to make friends and feel that sense of belonging where our deepest selves can grow into fullness of life. So the L'Arche Association has come up with a neat little website, called iBelong (click on the graphic if you'd like to check it out), a place where people with developmental disabilities and those who support them can find information, and share stories and experiences. I haven't explored it fully, but it seems like an excellent resource, in both of Canada's official languages.- Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 59
At Lizzie's membership celebration, it was clear that Lizzie has found her place of belonging in L'Arche. Would that everyone was so fortunate! L'Arche is a place of welcome and belonging for many people, including me, and I feel so blest to be part of it! If you're interested in becoming involved, check out that tab on the new website...
Happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities! And have a good weekend.