Everyone has a different L’Arche story. For Vince and Tamarah (Tam) Bush, they felt drawn to be assistants at L’Arche GWDC for different reasons but they found themselves impacted in similar ways – learning to be present, accept themselves and others, and thrive in mutual relationships.
Tam had been living in Thailand as part of a one-year service program working with people with HIV and AIDS when she realized her passion for cultivating relationships with people who are different from her and “on the margins.” After a group discernment discussion, three different people suggested she look into L’Arche. Coincidentally, Tam was already reading a Henri Nouwen book about his L’Arche experience and the possibility of L’Arche had been in her mind for some time. Her research led her to L’Arche GWDC, the closest community to her hometown of Philadelphia. Long-term boyfriend and now husband Vince Bush, upon hearing of another potential stint of long-distance, also looked into L’Arche as a way to be close to Tam. As he learned about L’Arche Vince felt it “could be a great place to be, to grow as a person. Just being in an atmosphere where people are welcomed regardless of what they look like, and who they are, and their attributes, and XYZ.”
Tam and Vince at a L’Arche celebration.
Vince grew up with a reading disability and “coming to a place where other people have a disability” made him feel “an underlying connection with core members” which was helpful to him. L’Arche helped show him the value of being different with varying gifts and that all people are welcome “regardless of their color and their disability.” Tam explained how L’Arche helped her recognize the beauty of supporting each other and learn “that we all have something to offer, and we also all really need each other.” While society tends to value independence, Tam found the value of being in a relationship with one another and leaning on others as a member of a community.
They also learned more about disability rights. Tam noticed the effects of buildings without elevators or ramps on those who are physically unable to take the stairs, and she realized how alienating and exclusionary this is. Specifically, the church Vince and Tam attended did not have an elevator, and this made it difficult to bring their friend Hazel to service with them. (Since then, however, this church has not only installed an elevator, but L’Arche has also had its Christmas party in the basement as a result.)
The mention of Hazel brought up their relationship with her. Vince explained that even at first, Hazel was a comfort to him as an African American man entering a new space. Vince also talked about the beauty of learning Hazel’s language by sharing time, describing his relationship with her as “very fruitful and very, very beautiful,” and he discussed the ways in which Hazel has supported his art and how grateful he is that Hazel adamantly maintains a relationship with them even today. “I also gotta give credit to Hazel because she has a disability, she’s a woman, and she’s a Black woman,” he said. “And those three things, you know, are very difficult still to this day. So I think she has a lot of power.”
Tam appreciated the practices of L’Arche spirituality, such as prayer at the end of dinner during which Fritz shares all the people he is holding in his heart and the participation of core members during the service in which she was ordained. “I grew up in a community where it was like, there are very right ways of being in connection to God and very wrong ways. And I feel like L’Arche allows you to approach God as yourself. And that’s really significant,” she explained.
L’Arche taught Vince that “I can just act [like] myself. Instead of faking, in a way, or being scared or hesitant, I can just be myself. So, that taught me, you know, to be more comfortable around, people and also people with disabilities.” Tam said that L’Arche, and more specifically, Francene, taught her how to set boundaries. Francene was good at “knowing ‘okay, I need to go and sit in the prayer room or I need to go on a walk,’ and saying, like, ‘Will you go on a walk with me?’” Tam also touched on learning how to have meaningful relationships without words: “just sitting and being is actually really significant and important.”
When asked to choose a favorite memory, they both could not pick just one. However, Tam finally decided on the time she rode on a train with Walton for an hour to a restaurant. Walton was excitedly purring and greeting everyone who passed, and a group of young girls walked by giving weird looks to him. Walton shook their hands and by the end of the exchange, they were laughing and even speaking Spanish with him. Later that day, Walton had the opportunity to speak to a mail carrier in Spanish about how much he loves mail, and Tam found that simple day to be full of so many little glimmers of happiness. For Vince, his fondest memories were when Fritz would pay someone a compliment and the times when they would work out together. He enjoyed his high energy and supporting Fritz in seeing his mom and getting to see their relationship.
Fritz and Vince on a fall outing with Highland House. Hazel and Tam share a moment.
Both Vince and Tam’s career choices changed from their experiences at L’Arche. Vince had previously worked full-time at the YMCA before coming to L’Arche. Being an assistant at L’Arche helped him discern his interest in a career in supporting families and their kids. As well as being an amazing artist, Vince finds this profession to be a fulfilling way to supplement his income while serving others and supporting their needs. Tam entered L’Arche with the mindset that she would never leave. However, she struggled with imagining herself remaining an assistant just as much as she struggled to imagine leaving. From mentoring and conversations at L’Arche, she realized she wanted to be a chaplain. “When I did chaplaincy, it was like, “oh, this is kind of what I’m made for,” she explained. “I think L’Arche was an important part of becoming that.”
L’Arche continues to impact both Vince and Tam today, and they are happy to be involved with the L’Arche community in any way they can. L’Arche changed how they viewed others, as mentioned above, but it also changed how they see themselves in fundamental ways. For Vince, L’Arche confirmed in him that everyone has different gifts to offer and everyone needs support in some shape or form. L’Arche was a place for him to learn and grow just as much as it is for core members. Ultimately, L’Arche taught him that “what we all need to do in this world is just live life, and live in a community, and just live life. Period. So, I feel like Laurie right there: “live life.”
Tam talked about how L’Arche showed her that she can also receive love and care rather than just being the caretaker. She discovered the value of being in mutually supportive relationships and “the value of not taking yourself so seriously that you can’t be questioned or that you can’t be moved to change. But letting yourself make mistakes so that you can learn to be better the next time.” Tam summed up the mutual model of L’Arche well: “It’s about being able to give and receive.”
Featured photo at top of page: Vince and Tam went to a play with Laurie and Lauren!
Edits by Mary Ellen Dingley