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I’ve been thinking about this quote quite a bit since I read it on a friend’s blog recently:

“My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
…a passion to make, and make again
where such un-making reigns.”

(Adrienne Rich, Excerpt from Natural Resources
in Dreams of a Common Language)

I tend to be the kind of person who is easily overwhelmed by all that troubles me – both my own struggles, and the things I have learned are part of our human condition.  We live in a world that sometimes seems as if it is driven solely by selfishness, greed, evil.  And we have suffered because of this.  Sometimes we are involved in causing the suffering of others. Sometimes we witness the innocent suffering of people who have done nothing to deserve it.  Often we (or at least I) feel like we don’t know how to do anything to make it better.  Can we make it better? Can we cultivate a passion to perversely make, and make again in a world where such un-making reigns?  To believe in the possibility of love, hope, peace, goodness in the face of suffering?

I ask myself these questions as I sit across the table from a woman who needs me to patiently sit with her while she finishes her breakfast, more than an hour after everyone has finished and left the table.  Can I cultivate patience?  Can I be gentle and compassionate instead of hasty and short-tempered?  Can I learn to slow down enough to see the beauty in this quiet moment, and know that my to-do list is far less important that sharing a meal with my new friend?  Can I continue to sit here with her, making faces and laughing and communicating only through body language, since I don’t know sign language and she can’t hear my voice?  Her smile, with no extraordinary power, reconstitutes the world.

I am learning that language is far more than the words we speak. We’ve all been told this before.  But it is only through living with people who must rely on other forms of communication that I can really learn to listen to all that a person is saying.  We all have our own language… certain expressions, gestures, symbols, words, that we use to communicate our needs to one another.  I have to be patient because I am learning new languages, ones that may not seem intelligible at first, but are as full of meaning as the language that I use, maybe even more so.

If you don’t already know I’ve officially begun my next adventure – a year long commitment to L’arche Cape Breton, a community for people with developmental disabilities, where I will be working as a live-in assistant.

Since not much has happened yet, I decided this would be a good week to tell you where I live and what I’m hoping to find here…

To give you an idea of where I am, I live in the tiniest town I’ve ever seen, a place called Orangedale, which is just outside of the second smallest town I have ever seen, Whycocomagh, which is just outside of Iron Mines (which you may be able to find on a map…). We are about an hour and a half from Sydney and three hours from Halifax.

L’arche Cape Breton is divided into three properties, with six individually run houses in total. My house is called Korban House and I live with four core members (Buddy, Gary, Ron and Coralee) and five other assistants (Marion, Michael, Milad, Candice and Ashley L. – whom I am replacing when she leaves at the end of the month). Our house is a stone’s throw from the shore of the Bras d’Or Lake, a huge system of salt water lakes in the center of Cape Breton, even if you throw like a girl.

L’arche Cape Breton is one of 200 L’arches worldwide, communities started by Canadian Jean Vanier in 1964 in France. Frustrated by the treatment of people with developmental disabilities in institutions, Vanier invited two men to live in his home, with the goal of creating home and family life together. What Vanier discovered was the richness of sharing life with people marginalized by society, the gifts his friends had to offer, and the humanizing affect of community.

Vanier writes, “real peace implies something deeper than polite acceptance of those who are different. It means meeting those who are different, appreciating them and their culture, and creating bonds of friendship with them.”

So, with this in mind, I have come to L’arche Cape Breton to learn. In my first few days I have questioned whether I have the strength, patience, and grace required to fulfill my role as an assistant. And yet, as I watch the other assistants go through daily routines with the core members, I am reminded that it is not necessarily about what I have to offer but whether I am open to these new relationships.

Beauty of the World

I soak up the stark beauty of your world
Through my foreign eyes
And absorb whatsoever you offer
Having learned to be thankful
For the bounty of your coffers
However great or small.

I am an eager student of your realm
Chronically curious ever wandering, wondering,
Observing your thoughts, culture
And reactions with reiteration of my preoccupation.

I have slowly evolved into a mirror of your moods,
Your laughter causes me to smile,
Your tears well rivers of my own
Which overflow the banks
Of my perspective, giving me introspective
Into your psyche.

I have trod your oft-trodden paths
I have swum to the fire of your distant shores
I have sailed the clear blue of your skies
And have painstakingly etched my lifeline
Through your own.

Now, weather worn, sand torn,
I plod through the rifts of your drifting
Shifting valleys, barefoot,
Embracing my rod for comfort
Ever searching for your green pastures.

Through the still waters of my resilient fascination
Where the shadows of death
Impatiently, rather than serenely haunt my imagination.

by Edna Yaghi

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