This reflection from James came soon after he learned of Linda Garcia’s passing. Linda was James’ housemate in Highland House. He expected to return to her when he returned from his solidarity exchange in March.
Thank you everyone who has kept in touch and for your prayers and your messages of consolation. I am very grateful to have been able to Skype with Linda on the Sunday morning before she passed. Throughout the past two weeks, I have enjoyed watching the family of stray dogs (mother, father and three puppies) that live on L’Arche’s property. It was fun to share about them with Linda prior to her passing and also about the stray cat that occasionally pays us a visit. A few days ago, I discovered that one of my shoes was missing from the veranda, only to later learn that the dogs had chewed it up. First my sandals went missing after the puja, and now I only had one shoe! I imagine Linda laughing much at my predicament. Fortunately I was able to borrow some shoes from Gopi to get through the day and purchase another replacement pair at the market. Hopefully these ones will last the for the remaining six weeks!
Even before she passed, I realized Linda was teaching me about how grief can be a beautiful experience when someone grieves in the love of her/his community. When her mom was in the hospital, and later at home to receive hospice care, Linda and I went to visit her and brought flowers and photos of Patrick and Joseph; they were about four months old at the time. We hugged her mom, received Communion together, and I will always remember the beautiful embrace Linda and her mom shared before we said goodbye. After Mrs. Garcia passed, Linda added a photo of her mom and dad to our living room and began praying every night for her mom to rest. She prayed for her mom to rest every single day after dinner. Atleast forty members of L’Arche attended Mrs. Garcia’s funeral. Everyone was very touched when Linda later joined Tom, Elizabeth, and Garrick on stage to sing Edleweiss to honor her mom during our solidarity fundraiser. Linda invited several of us to visit her mom’s grave, and we began attending church with Linda on Sundays and going to IHOP with her and her dad after. Linda continued to usher at church, a commitment she first embraced with her mom, and during L’Arche USA’s National Gathering, Linda and I served as ushers. She wore her Austrian jacket, and it felt like we were honoring her mom together. *Mrs. Garcia was from Austria. Later, at the reception, Richard from L’Arche Erie played Edleweiss on the piano for us. The week before I left for India, Linda and her brother Anthony cooked dinner for all of us at Highland House. We have had so many good memories over the years. Everyone here in Asha Niketan Asansol has been supportive. The night that I learned Linda had passed, I cried much as we prayed together. It meant so much to show everyone Linda’s picture before we began and to hear various members hear say Linda’s name. Well, please know I am grateful for your support and know all the members of L’Arche GWDC and all of Linda’s loved ones are grateful too.
It has been positive to be here in Asha Niketan these past two weeks. In previous emails, I described bonding with Rahul and with Maria. In this email, I want to share with you about Pintu. Pintu is one of the newest members of the community. Like some of the additional core members, he was brought to L’Arche by the Missionaries of Charity as an orphan in need of a home. Since I have been serving in the daycare, I have been able to get to know Pintu better during the day in addition to being present for meals and prayer. Pintu is small, yet he can be aggressive, even hitting people twice his size. He can also be very gentle and seek hugs and reassurance. It all depends what mood he is in. Pintu, Basudev, and Sagil are the only three I am able to carry on my shoulders, and Pintu loves it. Sometimes he climbs on my back when I am sitting on the floor. He finds it challenging to recall names, yet he remembers that I am Jamesdada, and that makes me feel very happy. He is often restless and resists sitting for his individual lessons. One way he calms down is by pulling a pair of toy ducks on a string around the property. I will try to attach a photo. It is like a meditation for him. One afternoon, I was clearing some debris with a wheelbarrow, and Pintu put aside the toy and offered to help. I love it when he giggles. I also love it when he blesses people during prayer time. He takes that role very seriously. I wonder what Pintu will be like when he gets older. As he continues to learn and experience community life, I imagine he will become a leader among his housemates and those who attend the day programs.
Another good moment during the week was when it was Gopi’s turn to cook. It was his first time ever cooking for everyone, and he was nervous. I remember cooking was so challenging when I first joined L’Arche, and it was good to be able encourage him. After two hours of preparation, we all appreciated Gopi’s efforts: rice, green beans from the garden, and egg curry. I tipped my winter hat to him, and we laughed. He and I have a great joking rapport. Before coming to India, I was unsure if my sense of humor would be appreciated, but it comforting to feel like we are all sisters and brothers here. We all tease one another and play jokes often.
Things that I found challenging at the beginning have been less challenging in recent weeks. Soon after I requested your prayers for everyone’s health, everyone seemed to miraculously recover from their colds. I have been growing accustom to the noises of community life here. Since there can be commotion early in morning, even at 6:30 am, I have been getting up earlier and taking a shower then. I appreciate music when it is played, and if I am really craving some silence, I go to a place for solitude at St Vincent’s school: a garden with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Rahul and I have goodnight chats before falling asleep. His room is across the hall, yet there are no ceilings. If I had to mention a challenge for the last two weeks, in addition to grieving Linda’s passing, it would be that it is upsetting when children in the daycare run away from the group and when some use violence. I do the best I can to encourage peaceful behavior, yet it can be frustrating when the tensions continue. It has been helpful to consider: if I was in the same position, I may run away or be aggressive too. The children are all learning together. Since my visa is valid for 10 years, it may be wonderful to come back to visit and engage some children of the daycare as teenagers. Maybe some will work in the garden or workshop when they are older.
Bianca has given me project to do when I had some free time: to take photos of the nine core members who live at L’Arche and create a chart to reflect their roles during prayer time and meals. Their roles rotate each week. Someone lays out the floor mats, another handles the arati, and another brings the book of scripture verses to readers in the group. During meals, one core member and one assistant serve as partners to offer plates of food to everyone. It is a beautiful example of mutuality through hospitality. Since I have a smart phone, I have been capable of taking some good photos. I often think of Brian Taylor and how he has supported L’Arche GWDC over the years with his photography. In DC/Arlington we use the word accompanier to describe a pair of community members that support one another. Here in Asansol, they use the term reference. I am now attempting to take pictures of all the references and will share them with you in the next email.
As I write this message, members of L’Arche India’s five communities are all present here for General Assembly. It is amazing. Everyone is like one big family and this is our reunion. I was able to join two reflections: one about L’Arche’s identity and mission and another on commitment and belonging. Fortunately we all communicated in English. I have been also able to share some meals, activities, and snacks with some of the visiting core members. Even as we speak different languages, it is wonderful to relate through smiles, applause, pretending to eat too much or sneak extra food etc. Today I watched as Rahul and Murali acted out the parable of The Lion and the Mouse and as Packama and Adhira learned to dance to a new song. Observing the joy of bonding in these ways is incredible.
One last thing I want to share about is again how L’Arche is a place where healing occurs. I have been treating Maria’s toe with medication and bandages after he got a small scrape on the sidewalk. A few weeks ago, I was worried it may get infected, yet it has been healing more and more each day. I also have a small cut on my foot and a few on my hands from working in the garden, and those wounds are also healing. It is good to consider how I and additional members of L’Arche have healed emotionally over time, and it is positive to know so many are supporting members of L’Arche GWDC now that Linda has passed. I have appreciated Skyping with members of Highland House when possible. One quote I find reassuring when someone has passed is, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” by Jean Massieu.
Well, thank you so much for reading and your support. I will write again in 2-3 weeks. Please know I will enjoy reading reflections from you too.
James made a commitment to live with Asha Niketan Asansol in India in December. His experiences will shape who we are as a community when he returns. This is called a Solidarity Exchange.