You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.

It is 31 degrees in my bedroom right now.  I kid you not.  My little iPod speakers/thermometer told me so.  In my opinion, ideal room temperatures are between fifteen and seventeen degrees celsius.  So, thirty-one degrees is decidedly too hot.  And worst of all, according to the Weather Network it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

We had an orientation meeting today (training for new assistants) where we talked about the importance of celebration in community.  Our discussion began with this quote:

“Celebration expresses the true meaning of community in a concrete and tangible way.  So it is an essential element in community life.  Celebration sweeps away the irritations of daily life; we forget our little quarrels.  The aspect of ecstasy in a celebration unites our hearts; a current of life goes through us all.  Celebration is a moment of wonder when the joy of the body and the senses are linked to the joy of the spirit. It unites everything that is most human and most divine in community life.  The liturgy of the celebration – which brings together music, dance, song, light and the fruit and flowers of the earth – brings us into communion with God and each  other, through prayer, thanksgiving and good food.  The harder and more irksome our daily life, the more our hearts need these moments of celebration and wonder. We need times when we all come together to give thanks, sing, dance, and enjoy special meals. Each community, like each people, needs its festival liturgy.” – Jean Vanier. Community and Growth, p314-315.

The last week or so has felt like the official beginning of summer – complete with bike rides, walks in the park, barbeques, sticky hot weather and evenings cooling off on the porch.  There’s a lot I like about summer, but I’m going to be honest, I am biased towards the cooler seasons.  Still, this season brings with it fresh opportunities for celebration.  There’s nothing better than sunset bike rides at 9pm or dinner on the back porch, especially when you consider that just a few months ago it was routinely dark by supper time.  A lot has changed since those colder, darker days of the winter months – the ones that felt so endless, so dreary.  I have a lot to celebrate.

So I am actively searching for ways to celebrate in small moments – hugs shared, laughter at the dinner table, creating music.  Celebrations that ease the irksome quarrels from my mind, leaving behind contentedness and gratitude.  I hope you too are finding ways to celebrate in the day to day, to feel the current of life pulsing through you and your community.  Peace.

Ahh, I have the beginnings of what feels like home.

Last summer, I reflected on what it meant to create home.  What does it take for me to find my personal space welcoming, relaxing, peaceful, my own?  It is incredible the difference I feel as I look around my bedroom tonight after a few hours of re-arranging furniture, putting up pictures and unpacking that one last suitcase.  And although it’s a work in progress, I can already feel myself relaxing.  It’s starting to feel like my space, instead of just the room I have been sleeping in.

So what is it that helps me create home?  Yes, these are physical objects, but what I’m discovering as I look around my room is the non-physical attachment I have to each of these treasures.  They are not worth much, combined they might fetch me a dollar or two at a garage sale, but these aren’t objects I could ever sell.

They are the fern my mom dug from her garden and potted for me last weekend, the scrap of beautiful fabric Cara gave me last summer, the gift from my friends at Korban house, the piece of driftwood from my walk with Trevor at New River Beach, the rosary made by my Filipino host mother hung over the doorknob, photos of my east coast friends thumbtacked to the wall, the sailboat painting given to me by a friend at university, the ragged stuffed bear left behind by my oldest brother when he moved away for college and mine ever since, a rock from the shores of the St. Croix River, Sasha’s old bandana, my grandparents’ wedding photo, my great-grandmother’s quilt.

I think what I’m realizing is that these objects, worthless as they may seem to the world, are priceless to me because of the expression of relationship they carry.  Alone in my room, I need these reminders because without them I forget that although you are not here now, your influence in my life is no less significant.

The mystery is that somehow, although time and space may separate us, these objects remain symbols of our connection.

It’s like Naomi once said, “you have an eternal piece of my soul.”  And perhaps I, yours.

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.”

It is Wednesday.

I look forward to Wednesdays because of community worship.  This is when all the houses of L’arche Hamilton get together to celebrate, sing, pray and reflect.  I love these times (and loved them in Cape Breton too) because they are one of the few moments where everyone is quiet together.  There is laughter and noisy joy too, just like you’d experience at any other community gathering, but there is something so serene about the lighting of candles, the singing, the prayers, the images and the readings – it calms my soul and centers me in this present moment.  It is not often that I get the opportunity to hear a string of individual voices reflecting on what they are grateful for.  Sometimes these prayers are profound, sometimes they are simple, sometimes they are humourous.  One core member from another house routinely expresses gratitude for popcorn, movies, coke and pumpkin pie.  And always with sincere joy.

I love these times because it reminds me to reflect on and articulate what it is that I am grateful for on these nights and in daily life.  Often the most obvious thing is the people sitting around the circle with me, the gifts they bring to the table, and the community that draws those gifts out.  So much of what I am grateful for is expressed in four words, prayed for me by a friend last summer.  Meaningful work.  Deepening relationships.  At the beginning of things, when everything is still fresh and new, it is easy to see evidence of this all around me.  May this continue to be true as new experiences become routine, and as the freshness of these relationships fades into the soft familiarity of family.

And so, I finish today considering the importance of ending each day with gratitude.  I sleep so much better at night when I do.

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.

rootedness

belonging

confronting evil through love, not force

painting with all the colours, including dark colours

contemplation

consolation, desolation

the river that carries me from one moment to another

the wildness of God

the (holy) danger of mystery

stumbling towards love

imagining (and re-imagining) freedom

intoxicating beauty

the spaces between you and i

I’ve lived in a lot of different rooms in the past few years.  I recently informed my parents that I will probably be a vagabond until I’m at least thirty, and therefore need to keep storing my collection of books, musical instruments and childhood memorabilia at their house for awhile still.  Sorry Mom, you can’t turn my bedroom into a craft room just yet.

Six years ago, I left Oakville for the shores of Lake Huron.  Okay, so it was a camp position (and I was still at my parents’ most weekends) but my program staff cabin, shared with three other girls, became home for that summer.

Next came the various bedrooms I shared with five other girls through Katimavik.  We lived south of Winnipeg in a tiny town, south of Montreal in a tiny town, and south of Fredericton just outside a tiny town, staying in each place for only three months.

I was back in Ontario for a summer and then moved into residence at St. Stephen’s University.  Throughout my four years there I moved from one room to another every semester, never staying in one place longer than four months.  I went from being on campus to off campus to back on campus and off again.  I lived with families, or I had roommates, or I shared a house with other students.

I graduated last April and spent the summer at L’arche Cape Breton.  In September I moved back to Ontario and in with my best friend, Laura.  I stayed with her for a whopping six months before moving in with Rachel and Brandon in March.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I’ve lived in a lot of rooms in a lot of houses.  Seventeen different bedrooms in six years, to be exact.

I have taken something from the people I lived with in each place, and left something of myself behind.

With each move something ends and something new begins.

Tonight, I will fall asleep in a new bedroom, under a new roof, sharing a house with new people.  In some ways, the process of beginning again gets easier each time.  I learn what works well for me, settling in and feeling ‘home’.  I learn how to put down roots quickly and to develop family ties with the people who invite me in.

But there is still this part of me that longs for what is past, and hesitates briefly before moving forward.  I still feel the ache of being uprooted from the soil, taken from one place and dropped into another.

I still feel the displacement of not knowing where to sit at the dinner table, or where to put my toothbrush, or where to leave my shoes.

It is okay, even healthy, to grieve the end of one thing at the beginning of something new.  I give myself that space.

Tonight, I lay on a new bed, listening to the sounds of new traffic, feeling the breeze through a new window, watching the moon from a new angle.

For now, I am home. For now, I will put down roots.

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

Follow on Bloglovin

Blog Stats

  • 18,373 visits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email (no spam, promise).

Join 126 other followers

Categories

Proud Member of the Mental Health Writers’ Guild