Wednesday, March 2, 2011
A home for Thomas
I've been telling Thomas stories here for a while, but on Monday at work, I was invited to write Thomas' story to explain what L'Arche has meant in the life of one of our community members. I've asked permission to share what I wrote here because we need true tales to warm our hearts in these cold winter days. Thomas and friends warm my heart every week; I'm so lucky!
A Home for Thomas
Thomas doesn’t talk about his childhood at all, but from what we can gather, it was not a happy time in his life. One of seven brothers, all of whom were born with varying degrees of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Thomas bounced from one foster home to the next until he was 15. He spent the next 31 years of his life in institutional settings, changing residences many times. His anger issues and violence made it nearly impossible for anyone to care for him very long, as he grew to be over six feet tall, and at one point reached a weight of over 300 lbs.
The instability of Thomas' existence brought out the worst in him, and he was very heavily medicated when an amazing older couple met him and recognized his potential. They felt that he could have a happier life in a more stable and loving environment, so they took him in for a time and lavished him with affection and attention, helping him to wean off his medication and become more active.
The couple knew that they wouldn’t always be able to look after Thomas, so they entered into dialogue with L’Arche Edmonton in the hopes that Thomas would be willing to join the community and the community would be able to welcome him. He was still very rough around the edges when he arrived at L’Arche, and was accompanied by reports from various sources in his past that said “Thomas will never be able to function in a group.” But the couple who had looked after Thomas were insistent that he had much to contribute to L’Arche, and in the end, Thomas joined the community.
Thomas’ first few years with L’Arche were very difficult for everyone involved. His violent outbursts and anger issues made it hard for the other community members to connect with Thomas, and he with them. Over time, however, Thomas developed a friendship with a rather outspoken core member whom he respected, and whose opinion he valued. Jenny could say anything to Thomas, and he would listen. With her encouragement, his outbursts became more infrequent, and he developed many relationships. It was hard for him when someone would leave the community, but he gradually realized that even though people came and went from his life, there was a core of people who loved him and were committed to living in relationship with him.
Now that Thomas has found his home in L’Arche, he is a core member in every sense of the word. He lends the community the stability he once lacked in his life by connecting with everyone. He attends the L’Arche day program, where he proves past caregivers wrong on a daily basis by working well within the group. His hearty laugh can be heard throughout the building, and he knows the whereabouts of all the staff and core members: who is sick at home, and who is on a day off, whose car needs a wash, and whether someone will arrive later than usual.
In the past decade of his life, Thomas has progressed from a painful past to a joyful present and a promising future. Not only has he learned the value of real relationships with other people, but our L’Arche community has grown through Thomas’ call for us to be in relationship with him. Now that he has found a stable home in L’Arche, he has been able to connect with his family of origin in a meaningful way as well, spending time with his brothers now and then. Thomas’ journey, though difficult, has been one that has given life and joy to all of us in L’Arche who know him today.