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L’Arche Lessons: A Five-Year Reflection

As I was recently packing up my DC apartment to move across the country, my mind skipped back to one of the last times I made a significant lifestyle change and decision — five years ago, nearly to the week, I was also packing up my things and preparing to set out from my place of comfort into the world, this time from Highland House.

After two years living at L’Arche, which had firmly become my home, leaving was not without a bit of trepidation. I had moved in to Highland House a week after my college graduation and spent two very meaningful and formative years with my L’Arche family. Now, I was deciding to go on to graduate school, and the time to say my goodbyes had come.

I continued on through grad school and landed in public service. As I think about my path since L’Arche, it is not hard to see how my growth was shaped while I lived in the community. I gained some much-needed relational tools that have served me very well in the professional world, both in helping me navigate my own bumps and bruises more gracefully, but also in being supportive to others in their journeys. Living with a group of people through ups and downs was an intense lesson in love and humanity, and I have no doubts I am a better colleague and more considerate manager as a result.

Less expectedly, my reflection also revealed to me the more hidden, ongoing ways that L’Arche continues to guide and shape me, even five years later. Comparatively, it was easy to recognize parts of my background and perspective that were formed while I was living in community, but the lessons that remain unfolding were much less glaring. I find, though, that L’Arche continues to influence how I have been choosing to carve out my path moving forward.

I see this happening in two major ways– firstly, through the unwavering relationships that remain from my two years with L’Arche. Entering as strangers and leaving as family, these are friendships that could withstand months or more of little contact and immediately resume with deep and unconditional support. I can always count on attentive listening paired with thoughtful feedback from a good number of these friends, and even though not always tapped into, having and knowing this support exists has been invaluable. With that security, L’Arche has helped keep me rooted, as well as given me the comfort to spread my wings and try new things.

Secondly, I continue to learn from L’Arche through the continual welcome and warmth of new faces each time I pop in to visit or attend gatherings. Being accepted and loved while part of the community is one thing, since, honestly, it’s not much of an option to not bond when you spend all day, every day together. However, the choice current members make to welcome me as a visitor (and sometimes as a stranger) is just that– a choice– and that welcome is a true gift that repeatedly strikes and moves me. In a world where there is generally a price of admission, the unquestioning and freely-given open arms of L’Arche members reminds me that the human capacity for love and relationship is unbounded. When we think our hearts are full (or even when we think they’re empty), there is always something left to give others, and the heart will stretch and grow to find it. Love, acceptance, and kindness are magnificent and limitless resources. L’Arche gently challenges me to take these riches back with me to other parts of my life and pushes me to grow in the vulnerability of doing so.

I do my best to interact with others in my world with the same care and compassion valued in L’Arche, but this isn’t always easy when a person-centered focus is not the norm in most spaces. In especially tough times, times when I’ve considered rerouting my path back to my comfort zone of L’Arche, I’ve always been offered the encouragement needed to continue maneuvering through rocky scenarios and remaining true to my values. L’Arche has offered be a home, gifting me that feeling of safety and stability, while continually challenging me to be a better person and ambassador of community. The reliable support, love, and inspiration I continue to find there have helped me share more grace, humility, compassion, and courage with others than I ever would have been able to, and I excitedly await uncovering more hidden treasures as I continue my journey alongside my L’Arche family.

Megan Hrdlicka served two years as a L’Arche assistant and service team leader. She worked on Capitol Hill and now lives in Denver, Colorado.

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