Back to All Stories

Living on L’Arche Time

Wake ups, coffee, eggs, toast, Adele on Hazel’s iPod…

“We used to call snow a four-letter word!” Kelly says with glee in her voice. “And why is that?” I ask. I’m standing at the kitchen window watching Fritz and Gerhard pour salt on the wheelchair ramp and the driveway–and I, for one, am hoping for a blizzard. Snowpeople, something warm and hearty in the slow cooker, and, finally, a chance for sweet revenge on Hazel for the snowball she threw at me in the living room a few weeks ago.

“Oh, because when it used to snow before COVID, we would have to stay home all day instead of going to work and day programs.”

“Huh,” I respond, looking around. “Imagine that!”

Gilmore Girls reruns, toothpaste, more coffee, temperatures, medications, laundry…

I moved into L’Arche as a live-in assistant in the late spring of 2020, just after the initial adjustment period in all of our lives at the beginning of the pandemic. As pundits were speaking of getting “back to normal” that hot summer, it was clear to those of us living with vulnerabilities–physical, economic, and social–that there would be no such thing as “back to normal.” Our country’s prioritizing of economic growth over the health and wellbeing of us all meant that the lives and choices of people with disabilities would be even more constrained by ableist structural violence than they already were. For those of us choosing daily life at L’Arche, that meant acknowledging that we will be living our locked-down way of life–no visitors, very limited travel, social distancing within our homes, constant sanitizing, constant masking, temperature checks and symptom screenings, every meeting on Zoom, and of course, no work or day programs for core members–for many, many months to come.

Dishes, masks, scarves, coats, a long walk around the neighborhood…

Linear time feels inadequate to describe this season. I’ve felt the world change. I’ve watched the garden grow tall then die back, watched the trees lose all their leaves, watched the days get unbearably short then start to get longer again. Yet without the usual markers of in-person gatherings, everyday feels similar. Many of us have come to realize that staring at a screen feels almost exactly the same, physically, whether you’re attending a run-of-the-mill team meeting or your own birthday party.

Washing hands, sanitizing, filing paperwork, typing morning notes and Zoom logins…

And yet, the many assistants and core members who were here in the “before times” say that life at L’Arche has always seemed to move at a different pace. Maybe it’s how the end of a workday as an assistant doesn’t necessarily mean going home, dissolving the myth that we are happiest when we separate our personal lives from our work lives. I’m already home, so schedules and linear time aren’t the primary drivers of my days; the relationships I have with my housemates are. Time might also feel different here because of the simplicity–even in pre-pandemic days, where more of us spent time commuting to and from activities or welcoming people into our homes, our lives were still centered on simple acts like eating a meal together, listening to music together, even just sitting and being together. Time has always moved differently here at L’Arche, each moment passing a little more slowly, simply, and carefully.

Warmed-up leftovers, more dishes, more laundry, more Zoom meetings, nap time…

Living with chronic fear causes time to slow, too. I sit at the kitchen table reading news reports of the many thousands of people we’ve lost to the virus itself and to all of its secondary harms–lack of preventative care, forced poverty, deep isolation. I look around me and remember how very many people died because they lived in the inherent vulnerability of settings not unlike L’Arche, or lived with the inherent vulnerability of disability. I can feel in my bones how very close we come every day to our lives being ripped apart by a force none of us can control. We are doing absolutely everything we can do to keep each other safe, and yet we know, every minute, that we could do everything right and still face the dire consequences of the virus. And so every minute that I can look around at my beloved people and reassure myself, “It’s okay. We’re all okay,” every moment that I can remind myself that the worst thing in the world hasn’t happened to us yet–every moment like that is precious. And when every moment is precious, time slows down to match the speed of each of our hard-won breaths.

Showers, Facetime calls, Star Trek reruns, sanitizing, medications, the Monkees record on repeat…

In a time as difficult as this one, my housemates and I spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. My orientation to L’Arche was full of my dedicated home life leader, Lauren, starting sentences with, “Well, in pre-covid times…” and my sweet housemate, Eric, asks, “When will the virus be over?” with the daily (and hourly) persistence of the widow knocking at the judge’s door in the Biblical parable. They remind me to hold onto the belief that one day, things will be different. And yet I often find myself slipping into wishing things were different right now. I wish I could see core members off to day programs in the morning. I wish I could hug my housemates with abandon. I wish I could be out in the world with my friends. I wish we could fast-forward through the hard part.

Chopping, sauteing, mixing, plates, napkins, silverware, waters, spaced-out chairs…

But if I spend all my time wishing I was living in a different time, I will miss all that is beautiful and wonderful here, now. I am grieving and afraid, raging and tired, much grumpier than someone who believes every moment is a gift should probably be. And I am also dancing and singing along to music videos in the middle of the afternoon with my housemates. I am in a crowded kitchen, making a mess, helping to cook a completely incoherent set of delicious things for our Christmas Eve meal. I am watching everyone turn a year older and singing the happy birthday song at 20 different speeds and completely off-key on Zoom. I am being pelted with snow in the living room while Hazel cackles, and I’m walking around the same block over and over and over again. Both the pain and the love of this time are true. Both are always true.

Talking, chewing, candles, prayers, songs, typing more notes, even more dishes…

I think about how my friend Fritz brought out decorations weeks ahead of each changing holiday season this year–our flurry of summer and fall birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. We had so many more Christmas lights on Highland House than any practical person would plug in each night. Fritz lives the wisdom that allows time to flow as it must–an hour of early-morning music or late-afternoon cooking lasting for a little eternity, and the seasons continuing their cycle of beginning and ending and beginning again right before our eyes.

More showers, more sanitizing, more laundry, temperatures, Jeopardy!, medications…

I look around on a day like today, which could be any day–filled with the little joys and little dramas that make up life together. I hear Hazel singing as loudly as she pleases to a Prince song playing in her headphones. Eric is dancing upstairs–I can tell from his footsteps as I stand in the kitchen chopping onions for the chili. I spray sanitizer on the table where Kelly and I will do a puzzle before dinner. I hope we’ll wake up to that promised dusting of snow tomorrow morning. Maybe, this week, Fritz and I will go to the outdoor section of the garden store and pick out our seeds for spring planting. We can start kale and chard indoors in just a few weeks–can you believe it? Spring is well on its way. Maybe, right now, I feel more brave than afraid.

Pajamas, toothbrushes, tea, blankets, notes, lights, goodnights.

 

Featured photo: Liddy and Fritz look at L’Arche photo albums!

 

Stay up to date

Sign Up For Our Newsletter