Photo: Tim Shriver tells the story of working on a book in a L’Arche home. Photo by Brian A. Taylor Photography
Many of us have never lived at L’Arche and have never given a full life commitment to the community, but nevertheless we have watched and observed and tried in some way to capture these lessons: how to live in a community, how to call people by their names and not by their labels, how to welcome people as being valuable and not just as being productive, how to celebrate gifts and not judge weaknesses. As Jean Vanier said, to remember that, “we are never imprisoned by our weaknesses when we are in the hands of God.”
I decided about a year ago that I would try to have a part-time life at L’Arche. I approached John and others and asked if I could rent a room in the basement to write a book. They broke the rules and allowed me to rent and empty room, and Eric, Linda, Fritz, and Hazel allowed me to come in to their home and welcomed me.
I moved in on a Saturday and I brought an SUV full of books and a bookshelf and a desk. I unloaded it all and put it in the basement room and I had my little fan turned on and everything. I was down there for a few hours getting all situated. I came up for dinner and Linda looked at me as I came up out of the basement and she said, “Have you finished the book yet?”
The answer, Linda, is no. I have not, even now, a year later. I have not finished my book yet. But I share that story because I think what Linda was saying to me was “Are you focusing on your story?”
We each have a story, some kind of book we’re each hoping to write, each hoping to craft. One of the great gifts of L’Arche and the way people live there is that on some level I think we are reminded that we have work to do that is valuable and important, and to focus on it and not be too distracted by all the other noise, the pressures, the ways the world and life, that can keep us from doing what is most important.
So I thank Linda for her question. I promise you I will finish my book, and when I do it will be in great part due to the community of L’Arche in Washington and around the world.
I can’t wait for the curriculum [John mentioned in his talk]. I think L’Arche has for far too long been a place that is seen by others as a place for people with intellectual differences—I like to say “dif-abilities”—and their companions or friends. I think L’Arche is a gift to this city, to the country, and even to the world, and certainly to our faiths, whatever they might be.
I hope that part of what we think about today is how each of us can help share that gift so that the spirit of L’Arche can become a bigger part of each of us and through us a bigger part of the communities in which we live.
Tim Shriver is Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics and a long-time friend of L’Arche. He delivered this talk a the Heart of L’Arche breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel on April 9, 2013.