Reflection by John O’Connor, Highland Assistant 2018–Present
I came into L’Arche with a vision of a God that wanted my goodness. I graduated from college having grown in leadership, faith, and education. I learned ways to see the world differently, how to keep goofing off and balancing work amidst all of that. I welcomed the Jesuit philosophy into my life and fell in love with it. It’s focused on the people on the margins. Where God is. But it almost got weaponized for me. There were people resistant to service, there were service-oriented people resistant to the traditional way of worship. My heart was tired of it. I had grown up learning how God worked, and how grace worked. The first 21 years of my life were constructed in understanding that I had to get to God somehow and bring Him and myself to the people on the margins. Then I’d discover and learn from the people on the margins. It was egotistical, thinking that God was with me and not with someone else. I still struggle with being an airhead sometimes. So I came to L’Arche, knowing it was the place I was called to be but unsure of what or who I was supposed to be. Or what I am asked to become.
I moved into community two weeks after college. I moved into a home with four people with intellectual disabilities and three assistants and two summer volunteers. We were ten people living in a house in Arlington. It was a flurry of activity every day until 10:00 pm, and then everyone would wind down. It was a circus. At first, I experienced deep loneliness in community. I was surrounded by people who were still getting to know me, but I felt so alone. I missed my roommates. I missed my family. I missed college. Everything changed.
However, I eased myself into community. With time, I learned how to be an assistant and built relationships with all of my housemates. I felt competent, and life was fun during the summer. Each day, I felt honored and humbled to be an assistant. I was in awe of how the core members allowed me to support them even if they did not know me well. One day in August, my friend Eric told me he did not want to go to the county fair. He told me over and over and over and over and over and over. I lost my patience. I brusquely told him to give me space and I couldn’t talk to him right then. At that moment, I realized I did not have the infinite patience of my mom. Eric came back to me a few minutes later and said “It’s okay, I forgive you…. I still love you, John.” Guilt filled my body. I was not perfect. I had known that before. I mean I sinned, I went to confession, I gave over my sins, and received cleanliness. It was a transaction. I knew how to become perfect again. At least that is how I viewed it. I just did not know it. Little did I know that this interaction would begin to deconstruct my entire life.
My day-to-day is quite normal. I support four core members in intimate spaces. I pack lunches, clean the house (often twice in a day), administer medicine, help put people to bed, brush people’s teeth, you know the things that make me care for someone, not care about someone. Isn’t that such a funny difference? The difference between caring about and for.
Fritz, is a man in his late 50’s who lives at Highland house. I love him, with my whole heart. He is my model of self-love. He admires himself in the mirror, loves shopping and feeling good. Fritz and I love to take walks together, and garden together. We have planted dahlias, peppers, broccoli, rosemary, and other things in our backyard garden. Fritz is also known for his healing prayers at his church. He loves me, and he loves me deeply in my brokenness. I was once crying in our driveway. Tears streamed down my face while I called my parents telling them I couldn’t take it anymore. Fritz just watched from the porch. As I put my phone down, he sat next to me. His hand touched my back and rubbed it. No words were said.
Living at L’Arche, for the past year, has brought me into truly understanding God. He is no longer a man in the sky, but God is entering into relationship with Him. That is the aim of my life: to take my place in the trinity. For I am in God, and God is in me. It takes a lot of hard work. I consistently have my ego called out, and I challenge myself when I want to be seen as good at something. I ask myself if that is the part of me that knows I am totally good, and worthy or my ego. Slowly, I’ve given up my desire for power, recognition, and being known as “good.”
It is so freeing to know that I am loved and worthy. With God, there is no longer a transaction, but a transformation. I have allowed myself to be transformed by Love. I am beloved. As are you. You are loved, beyond measure even in your brokenness as that is where healing and love begin.