Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lunch at L'Arche

To celebrate is to give thanks for the gift that God has given us in having brought us together from a place of loneliness into a place of belonging. I know that you have accepted me and I you. I know your gifts and also your darkness. Yet I accept you, not expecting more and not weeping because you are not exactly what I wanted you to be. So to celebrate is to give thanks for all that you are and all that we are together.
- Jean Vanier, quoted by K. Spink in Jean Vanier and L'Arche, p. 68. 

Last week, my neighbour, Shelley, and I went to the L'Arche Friday Hot Lunch. Every Friday, the Day Program invites friends to come and share lunch, and Shelley was invited as guest and took me along with her. It had been a long time since I joined my friends in Day Program for lunch, as I don't usually work on Fridays.

Other times that I've attended, I've ended up sitting at table with friends both with and without disabilities, and the conversation is usually dominated by the latter. Conversation at hot lunch is usually quite lively, with plenty of good natured teasing going on... but on Friday, Lucy* invited me to sit at her table along with three others with disabilities. Lucy, Mariette, Leanne and Thomas didn't have much to say over their lasagna and Caesar salads, so I had lots of opportunity to sit back and observe all the things I wouldn't have noticed had I been engaged in lengthy conversation:

-- Darren, getting up and going to the fridge for his favourite condiment, ketchup, and Kana quietly putting it on his lasagna for him.
-- Thomas, suddenly getting angry about something. I tried to find out what was wrong, but he muttered, "Not talking to you." He got up and left the room muttering angrily, though I'm pretty sure that only our table saw his outburst...
-- Harry, being mischievous, and tucking a squished-up serviette down the back of Carmel's shirt... which of course, led to more napkin wars.
-- ... Leanne, being concerned about Thomas each time he showed up at the door and turned away again, still angry for reasons unknown...
-- Glen, in earnest conversation with another guest at another table, and later, gleefully victorious at arm-wrestling.
-- Alice, the Day Program coordinator, quietly making sure everyone had enough to eat.

... But the best part of the whole hour was when Leanne, our tiniest core member, decided to bring Thomas, our biggest core member, back to the table. Thomas was still looking rather disgruntled, but he had peeked around the doorway, and she waved to him and said, "Thomas, come sit." But Thomas was holding back, so she got up and marched over to him. Taking him by the hand, she talked him all the way back to our table and made him sit down. Then she gestured to his empty plate. "Hungry?" she asked. He nodded. She took his plate to the serving table and loaded it with another piece of lasagna and more salad, brought it back to him, and asked if he wanted more juice. He nodded again, and she went and refilled his glass.

Thomas forgot what he was angry about, and happily ate his meal. Tickle wars broke out on the other side of the room (Harry again) and soon spread to our table. Leanne and I tickled Thomas, and he tickled us... and when the meal was over, I found myself reflecting on the fact that I would have missed Leanne's tender care for Thomas had I gotten caught up in a table conversation. Leanne made our meal a celebration through her acceptance of Thomas, and her gentle way of coaxing him from loneliness to belonging.

On our way home from Hot Lunch, Shelley commented, "It's so easy to forget what's really important. But whenever I come to L'Arche, I remember."

Amen, sister.

*I use pseudonyms online for all my L'Arche friends.


  1. Thank you for this, Maria.. Your words are a gift to our community. And thank you for Taize prayer last night, my favorite of all prayer nights. :)

  2. Hee hee tickles wars. What fun! I think I'd fit right in:)
    I love watching acts of kindness.


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