The following reflection comes from James Schreiner, a member of L’Arche GWDC’s Highland House. James participated in a Solidarity Exchange with L’Arche in India at the Asha Niketan Asansol community this past winter. This reflection was published in L’Arche India’s July 2016 Newsletter.
The members of Asha Niketan Asansol are beautiful. I will always be grateful for their generous welcome and the gifts we have shared in solidarity and love. As a member of L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C., I was commissioned to embrace a three-month exchange to live and serve with the community (December 2015 – March 2016). The following are a few highlights from my experience:
It was wonderful to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the community. During every meal, one core member and one assistant serve as partners to offer plates of food to everyone. It is a true example of mutuality through hospitality. On occasions when someone is away during mealtime, a plate is always set aside for her or him if they wish.
Prayer in Asha Niketan Asansol is mysterious and delightful: a time of unity. Songs are sung, there is a period of silence, various sacred scriptures are read, and there is a time for blessing one another. I really appreciated joining everyone in prayer before breakfast and before dinner.
Bonding with Pintu
Pintu is one of the newest members of the community. Like some of the additional core members, he was brought to L’Arche by the Missionaries of Charity as an orphan in need of a home. While I was serving in the daycare, I was able to get to know Pintu better during the day in addition to being present for meals and prayer. Pintu is small, yet he could be aggressive, even hitting people twice his size. He could also be very gentle while seeking hugs and reassurance. It all depended upon what mood he was in. Pintu, Basudev, and Sagil were the only three children I was able to carry on my shoulders, and Pintu loved it. Sometimes he climbed on my back when I was sitting on the floor. He found it challenging to recall names, yet he remembered that I am Jamesdada, and that made me feel very happy. He was often restless and resisted sitting for his individual lessons. One way he calmed down was by pulling a pair of toy ducks on a string around the property. It was like a meditation for him. One afternoon, I was clearing some debris with a wheelbarrow, and Pintu put aside the toy and offered to help. I found it endearing when he giggled as we played together and also when he blessed people during prayer time; he took that role very seriously. I wonder what Pintu will be like when he gets older. As he continues to learn and experience life, I imagine he will become a leader.
Every evening before prayer, Maria is supported with his physical therapy. Assistants call this activity “Maria Massage.” Maria has such a gentle and peaceful presence, and I loved embracing these exercises with him.
Attending Mass with Rahul
Rahul and I attended Mass on Sundays, Christmas Eve, and Fridays during Lent. It was so wonderful to witness his enthusiasm during worship; Rahul’s whole body shakes with joy whenever he is excited about something. During our walks to and from Church, we discussed who was in need of prayer, and Rahul often lifted up my arm so that it rested on his shoulder. One morning after Mass, Rahul stretched his arms out wide, laughed, and expressed, “God is everywhere.”
Akash’s Way of Being
Akash lives in L’Arche and works in the workshop. He does not express many words, and I always enjoyed being around him. He likes to take his time with everything and makes no effort to try to impress others. He and I were paired up to serve tea one week, and it was refreshing to adopt life at a more relaxed pace. The community went to a local fair, and Akash and I held hands as we walked around together. Bianca, Akash, and I also attended Mass at a nearby school for children with intellectual disabilities. Sometimes Akash would look up and grin, yet never say anything, as we sat together on the veranda appreciating the sunset.
Brushing My Teeth Beside Bipul
Bipul and I bonded together one morning; the whole experience only lasted about 45 minutes, yet I was very touched by it. To accommodate all who attended General Assembly, Asha Niketan, Asansol had several meals catered. One morning, Bipul was taking his time and savoring his breakfast. Since everyone else had gone on to engage in other activities, I sat with him. We were in the prayer room, since the dining room was full. Bipul gestured for me to get him seconds, and I smiled and said, “No way. If you want some more, you can go ask for some.” He and I walked to the dining room, and with a big smile, he requested another helping. I asked for some more too, and we ate our seconds, just the two of us. After breakfast, we went to the bathroom to brush our teeth. As we brushed them side by side, Bipul looked up at me and laughed. I felt so happy in that moment. This is the solidarity that I cherish. I imagine Raphael, Philippe and Jean all brushed their teeth together some mornings in their home in Trosly.
In addition to these memorable experiences, I had many more moving moments with community members. It was always fun when we practiced karate together and celebrated holidays. Bianca often led us in reflections about L’Arche’s spirituality and treating one another with compassion. Assistants were so hospitable, even sharing extra pairs of sandals when mine went missing after a puja, and another occasion when my replacement pair were chewed up by stray dogs. Most of the time, it was good to be barefoot and realize we were walking on holy ground. It was such a gift to live with the members of Asha Niketan, Asansol, to receive their warmth, and grow in awareness of our diversity.
While James was living with the Asha Niketan Asansol community, he sent several letters sharing about his experiences. You can read those letters here: Hello From Asansol, and Serving Day Care at Asha Niketan, as well as Memories of Linda and Stories of India.