Yuan Feng is originally from Beijing, China, and goes by Rebecca in the U.S. She is currently majoring in Finance and English at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. This summer Rebecca spent eights weeks with L’Arche in Arlington, Virginia, through Notre Dame’s Summer Service Learning Program. The following is a reflection of her time in community.
Photo: Matt Poder, Jael Villalobos, Rebecca Yuan Feng, and Mel Perella-Savarese spent their summers volunteering at L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. Photo by Bethany Keener
Now as I am sitting in my own home, at my own table, listening to a song that I think fits L’Arche and writing this reflection, I smile and say to myself, “I am the luckiest girl in the world,” laughing and crying at the same time.
I was five when I first told my mom that I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. At that time, I was saying that to make her happy because my next sentence was “because you are the best mommy.” I remembered she laughed so hard and kissed me on the forehead, like Eric Arntson from L’Arche sometimes did.
Twelve years passed until I had that feeling again. During those twelve years, I was happy but I had never celebrated or even felt my luck. I tried hard to get good grades; I tried hard to make friends with all kinds of people, young and old, poor and rich, ill and healthy; I tried hard to get people’s attention; I tried hard to be someone, whom I could never be. I thought I could be anything I wanted. I did everything that made people think I was successful. I got a boyfriend, received good grades, went into the best high school in China, decided to go abroad to study, got full financial aid, and did all the “cool” stuff that the parents of my friends would spend hours and hours urging their kids to do.
However, with all those titles and other people’s admiration, I still did not realize my luckiness. I complained about life, about how unfortunate I was. I saw only sadness, only endless challenges and competitions. I became a robot, completing tasks all the time instead of living a life. I was not happy. Well, I was happy, but my happiness was only temporary. Rebecca was not happy; all the titles on her were happy.
Twelve years passed really slowly for me, as slowly as it does for any kid of my age. The next time when I said that I felt I was the luckiest girl was during the summer before college. I was spending lots and lots of time at home, waiting for school to start, with my heart full of anticipation, nervousness, and excitement. I watched a movie called Eat Pray Love and fell crazily in love with it. I still vividly remembered the main character spending Thanksgiving night in her Italian friends’ house and while sipping wine. She cried and said, “I am the luckiest girl in the world.” Interestingly, there was something so powerful about that sentence that I couldn’t help but cry and repeat after her, “Yeah, I am the luckiest girl in the world.”
Another year passed before I said it again. The third time was on the morning of my departure from L’Arche. Woken up by Eric’s “Good morning everybody,” I cried in my bed and whispered to myself, “I am the luckiest girl in the world.” After I said that, I cried harder. I felt my tears running down my cheek and wetting my pillow. I felt more awake than ever, probably because of the crying. Sunlight rushed in and washed away my tiredness from the previous night’s long conversation with Mulu Haile (Highland House’s awake overnight assistant). “Nice,” I thought, “I wanted to begin afresh.”
And now, sitting here, I said that sentence for the fourth time.
Interesting isn’t it? Every time I truly realized that I was the luckiest, I was crying. However, was I sad?
The conversation between Mel Perella-Savarese, the other summer time volunteer from Notre Dame, and me suddenly came into my mind. It was after a meeting I led when Mel saw me for the first time in summer – “Hey Rebecca, you’ve changed a bit, you know? You are a little different from the Rebecca at Notre Dame.” “Oh really? In what way?” “Well, you seem happier.”
Indeed, I lived an incredibly happy life in L’Arche. It seemed that I was laughing all the time in those two months. I was so happy because people at L’Arche cared, and they cared deeply.
The words of Dennis O’Connor (L’Arche’s spiritual director) came into my mind. We were having a long conversation in the prayer room of Sixth Street House, one of those conversations that I will probably remember for life. “If you have the truth and true happiness within you, nobody can reject you. Nothing can stop you.”
I sincerely hope Charles Clark is still singing in the Sixth Street House bathroom now – “Giggle-box Rebecca.” If he is, I will sing after him – “Giggle-box Rebecca, the luckiest girl in the world.”