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Apparently writing on Sundays is not so easy.  I came home last night, exhausted from a long and full weekend away, to a pile of clean but unfolded laundry, a book I was anxious to finish and a very welcoming bed.  Writing was the last thing on my mind.  C’est la vie.

I regularly get emails from Inward/Outward, a blog that examines the relationship between our inward selves and our outward relationships through the writings of spiritualists, mystics, saints and poets.  Each day a new quote arrives in my inbox, sometimes profound and intimately connected to my daily experience.  Sometimes not.  A few days ago, this piece arrived:

“Once a little boy wrote a poem called “The Monster Who Was Sorry.” He began by admitting that he hates it when his father yells at him: his response in the poem is to throw his sister down the stairs, and then to wreck his room, and finally to wreck the whole town. The poem concludes: “Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, ‘I shouldn’t have done all that.'”

“My messy house” says it all: with more honesty than most adults could have mustered, the boy made a metaphor for himself that admitted the depth of his rage and also gave him a way out.

If that boy had been a novice in the fourth-century monastic desert, his elders might have told him that he was well on the way toward repentance, not such a monster after all, but only human.”  – Kathleen Norris

Doesn’t it make you think of the boy in Where the Wild Things Are?

Often enough I have been the one to rage and terrorize, but that’s not what I’m thinking about today.  Being at L’arche, living in such a ‘shared life’ way, gives me lots of opportunities to bump up against the ‘monster’ in others.  One question on my mind has been how can I stay grounded and centered, while another rages around me, or even at me?  My natural inclination would be to rise up to the challenge and prove I can shout just as loud or be just as sarcastic.  I could demand my way and exert my power over the other.  But I know that I too would be left, sitting in my messy house, holding a bruised relationship, and saying to myself “I shouldn’t have done that.”

There’s a few things I think about in reflecting on this passage.  First, on the use of power.  I have lived in this house for two weeks.  Both the other assistants and the core members have been here for much longer, some for more than my whole life.  One of the founding core members of Sherman House moved in 27 years ago.  It becomes a very delicate balance when society generally hands me the greater percentage of power in our relationship, despite the fact that he is older and has had significantly more experience in communal living.  With another core member, I have quickly discovered that trying to ‘force’ my way is incredibly counter-productive when motivating someone to get out of bed.  Even the softest tug of the hand or tap of the shoulder of someone who would rather stay in bed inevitably leads to a power struggle, one I am destined to lose until I am willing to sit down, try a new approach and ultimately resign myself to patiently waiting for her to be ready.

Secondly, I find myself wondering how I can accept, even honour the rage within the other person.  Anger is a naturally occurring emotion.  It’s the way in which that anger is released that can sometimes become problematic.  When another person is angry, particularly if their anger is directed towards me, how can I respect their emotion and allow for the release of it, without becoming consumed myself?  Too often my first reaction is to defend myself, thereby isolating the other person in their emotion and deafening myself to their story.  Sometimes I have no clue where the source of emotion is coming from, sometimes I am unfairly made the target, sometimes the person is totally justified in their anger.  If my first reaction is to defend myself, I limit my ability to discern the source of the anger, and become ineffective at helping the person find a healthy release.  I end up only seeing the monster in the other, and fail to see the human.

In the end it comes back to that lesson we’ve all been told a thousand times – I cannot control another person’s actions, I can only control my response to them.  I commit to staying grounded while another rages around me, to find the human within the anger, to honour their emotions and to try as best I can to learn (for myself and others) how to release anger in healthy ways.  And I commit to taking the first step towards repairing bruised relationships when I find myself sitting in a messy house, saying to myself “I shouldn’t have done all that.”

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It’s raining again tonight.  I would like nothing more than to be sitting across from you in the living room, drinking peppermint tea, listening as you tell your story.  Having this conversation face to face.  But there is space between you and I.

I use this blog to try to reach through the disconnect.  To share something.  To be something other than an island.  “You’ll find us reaching into screens that echo back our discontent.” (source)  We spend so much time defining our independence.  Building our walls.  Living our separate lives.  There is space between you and I.

But we need each other, desperately, I think.  I need you.  Society tells me admitting this is weakness.  Vulnerability is seen as something to overcome.  I choose to believe otherwise.  Only through relationship with you am I made human.  Ubuntu.

Yet community is not easy.  Community is process, not outcome.  I need you, as you are.  Not as I wish you to be.  I need you with all your flaws and weaknesses and gifts and beauty.  I accept you as you are, where you are.  I welcome your gifts, your weakness, your vulnerability.  I invite you into mine.

I often write about my experiences and relationships living and working at L’arche.  If you’re wondering what L’arche is, and who the people I live with are, this should help.  In L’Arche homes, people who have developmental disabilities and those who come to assist them share life together in a home, just like a family.  I write to articulate these encounters, the daily rhythm of life in community, and the gifts and challenges I discover in small moments.

L’arche Hamilton is one of 200 L’arche communities worldwide, started by Canadian Jean Vanier in 1964. Appalled by the treatment of people with developmental disabilities in institutions, Vanier invited two men with disabilities 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 effect of community, both for those with disabilities and for himself.

I want to tell these stories because I believe they are the stories of people so often ignored by society, whose voices are drowned out by the rat race of success and wealth.  These voices stand along the sidelines, offering us, if we will pause, a different approach to life.  One that I have found to be more holistic, spiritual, and fulfilling than chasing the elusive dream of power, success, wealth, and comfort.  Life in community is uncomfortable at times, has little chance of leading to wealth or fame, and humbles me daily as my weaknesses and flaws are exposed.

But so too am I discovering my unique gifts.  The value of my gentleness, on the occasion it presents itself; my friendship, when it manages to place you before I; the depth of my appreciation and love for the beauty inherent in each one of us.  My hope is that through life here, these things can continue to flourish and drown out the voices of self-centeredness, insecurity and greed in my own life.

So with this post, I begin the search to find the balance between telling you the stories I discover here and sharing the gifts of community, while respecting the dignity and privacy of the individuals with whom I live.

Welcome to the journey.  I think it will probably be bumpy at times, but I hope there will be lots of beauty along the way.

http://www.larche.ca

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