At the end of June, L’Arche members from across the Eastern region gathered together for the annual Core Member Retreat. The retreat was held in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania and welcomed 30 people from L’Arche communities in Cleveland, Syracuse, Boston, Erie, Long Island, Jacksonville, Virginia, and DC. I was very excited to be able to attend the retreat as a companion with Fritz and a part of the retreat planning team.
Leading up to the retreat, there was plenty of planning and organizing to be done. Fritz was a guiding force when it came to coming up with a theme for the three-day retreat. The month of June is Fritz’s birthday month– which, for those who don’t know Fritz well, this month and his birthday are a very important time of the year. Most days during the month of June, Fritz can be caught casually singing happy birthday to himself or talking about all of the necessary items that must be at his party. The man has had 56 years of practice; he knows how to throw a good birthday party.
When brainstorming a theme for the retreat, I asked Fritz what things he really loved and brought joy to him. To this, he responded “birthdays…. ice cream… cake… balloons… presents… flowers …PARTY.” Like I said, he knows all the ingredients to throw a good party. I think that Fritz loves his birthday so much because it’s a time where all of these things and people that he loves and cares for come together to celebrate. It was pretty easy from there to decide on celebration as the central theme for the retreat.
Jean Vanier writes that “Celebration is a communal experience of joy, a song of thanksgiving. We celebrate the fact of being together; we give thanks for the gifts we have been given. Celebration nourishes us….” Fritz knows this and lives it well. He not only celebrates his birthday throughout the whole month of June, but he celebrates many things throughout the whole year. Fritz often reminds me not to get too ahead of myself. If I start talking about something too far in the future; he’ll say “no no no…Halloween first,” or any other major event that is happening beforehand. It is important to have a friend who holds me to cherish and focus on the celebrations that are happening here and now, instead of getting too wrapped up in the future.
Throughout the retreat, we talked about the things we need to celebrate. Along with Fritz’s extensive list of ice cream, balloons, and flowers; we also talked about the importance to forgive and invite people to celebrate with you. We ended the retreat with a celebratory party altogether. The whole weekend, but the party at the end was such a good reminder of the way that L’Arche embodies celebration.
Fritz helps to ground me in the importance of celebration, and at the retreat I was reminded that similar celebrations happen all across the Eastern region through all of the communities that were present. Then, thinking even wider about how these celebrations are happening not just in the eastern region, but at L’Arche communities across the country and the world. It was a comforting feeling to see how through celebration we really are a sign of hope to the world.
Katie Moore is the current Home Life Leader at Sixth Street House in Arlington, VA