My job brings fulfillment; there is something really special about having someone depend on you for their needs. To go to bed every evening knowing you have made a difference that day and to wake up refreshed the next morning. Here I will share with you my typical schedule of events:
6:30am – My alarm clock buzzes. It’s time to get up. I pull the covers up to my face and try to hit snooze one last time. I have never been a morning person and L’Arche is no exception. It’s still really hard for me to get out of bed and start my day.
While Í’m sleeping off the last few winks I quietly say a prayer for the core members that I will come into contact with that day. Each day it is the exact same prayer (a prayer that I have been praying since my first year at Tyndale): “Father God and Mothering Spirit, I thank you for this new day and the new opportunities and challenges it will bring with it. I ask that I would serve You as Your hands and feet today to everyone I come into contact with. I pray that I would offer them a cup of cold water when they need it the most, and offer them a word of healing and hope when all they see is darkness and despair. I pray that if they are fighting their own silent battle that you would give them the courage to keep pressing on. Help me to exercise patience and gratitude and to also be able to accept the ways that people will be Christ to me today. Amen.”
7am – I run upstairs, thankful once again that I live where I work. The breakfast table is already set and Josh (one of our core members) has made a cup of fresh coffee and turned the tea kettle on. He is always the first one awake in the house. I eat a leisurely breakfast with him and with the other assistants often having small talk about the day that lays ahead. I also use this opportunity to read through the Globe and Mail that lays on our table.
7:30am – Marissa, our other core member has joined us for breakfast by this point, as has Cheng with his assistant. Cheng can not eat by himself, so he relies on his assistant to help him with his breakfast. Now that we have our happy family, there is only one person missing, Jennifer. One of the female assistants goes upstairs to wake her up and help her with her routine before breakfast.
8am – Jennifer is finally up and downstairs. We give her a bowl of Fruit Loops – her standard practice and a cup of tea. While she is eating breakfast the other core members get ready for their day at work.
8:45am – After getting everyone’s coats, shoes, and hats on, we walk together as a happy family to the main property. If the weather is really bad we might drive, but we always try to walk when we can. The walk is always filled with friendly banter, teasing, and the occasional outburst of “I love you!”
9am – All the core members have arrived on the property for their programs. Daybreak hosts a variety of paid programs for the residents where they will be able to receive a wage. It really normalizes their lives to be doing what the general public does, going to work and then coming home after work. The core members take great pride in receiving their paycheques and on pay day often show them off and share with us how they will spend the money. The majority of them save the money to go on trips in the summer. Daybreak hosts 5 programs:
1) The Day Program (leisurely activities such as cooking baking, bowling, and improv)
2) The woodery (easily the most popular program and the one which generates the majority of income for Daybreak. Here core members learn how to make railway stakes and splints for St. John’s Ambulance. They use the machinery and at the end of a successful week are treated out for lunch at the local burger shop)
3) The Craft Studio (a place for all budding artists specializing in homemade candles, cards, and pottery. No two candles or cards are exactly the same. The craft studio also makes some really awesome wedding invitations and gifts. I know where I am going for all of my Christmas shopping needs)
4) The Club (a leisurely hang out for retired core members who need a slower pace in life. The club helps them to transition from their working days to retirement by giving them an opportunity to play Bingo, watch TV, or listen to music)
5) Spirit Movers and Movers and Shakers (A dance and drama troupe which performs in local churches and even occasionally at conferences and theaters).
9:15am – We have arrived back from dropping all of the core members off at their various programs. If it’s a Monday we will be having a team meeting for the remainder of the morning, otherwise, we spend the entire morning cleaning the house, running errands, and answering phone calls. Occasionally, we may also be scheduling doctor’s appointments or even going with a core member to an appointment.
12-4pm – It’s lunch time and assistant free time. In L’Arche we refer to this time as our “time away”. Time away is a really important aspect of our job because it can get really emotionally and spiritually intense. We need to honour our time away to recharge our batteries. For some this may mean having a nice long nap, but for me this often involves a mixture of academic stimulation (through my online seminary course or reading a good Theological book), working out in the gym, and finding places of solitude to do reading and writing.
4pm – We are back on the job. Someone has been appointed already to make the snack and to pick up the core members. When they arrive home we have a simple snack waiting for them which we eat together as a house.
4:30pm – We hang out with the core members, watching TV, listening to music, or colouring with them. Sometimes I like to play my violin for them and allow them to choose the songs they want me to play. Other times, I’m on for cooking in which case I will spend the rest of the evening in the kitchen.
6pm – Dinner is served. We pray together as a house (often having a core member lead in a simple blessing), and then we plate the food. The person who cooked puts the food on the plate while a core member delivers it to each individual at the table. Once everyone has their plate we eat together.
Meal times are a sacred pause for each of us. We don’t talk about hard hitting topics, but we try to keep the atmosphere light and jovial. Oftentimes we have core members from other houses come and join us which provides a social outlet for them and for us. Cell phones are put away during the meal and the house phone is not answered if it rings. We give our attention solely to one another and the presence each person has.
6:30pm – One of the core members makes tea and coffee for everyone sitting around the table. We leisurely drink the hot beverage while continuing on in a festive mood.
6:45pm – We say our prayers as a house. Every person contributes a prayer and if they are non-verbal we have an assistant help lead them in the prayer. Even the non-verbal core members recognize prayer time and make gestures of understanding. Prayer time is also our time to check in with one another. It’s an opportunity to share how we are really doing and the high and low points of our day.
If it is someone’s birthday or going away dinner we have another tradition instead of prayer. On those occasions, the house buys a gift and we go around the table sharing verbal gifts to the person. It’s an opportunity for each person to express their gratitude and talk about the skills that person brings to community. At L’Arche we do celebration really well. Regardless of whether we do prayer or sharing we always end in the Lord’s Prayer led by one of the core members.
7pm – Assistants clean up the kitchen and do all of the dishes. Core members continue to hang out and enjoy a leisurely evening.
8pm – We start helping core members get ready for bed and doing their evening routines.
8:30pm – We finish up any remaining paper work.
9pm – The staff are off for the night. Often by this point I have had a long day so I’m generally in my room watching a movie or reading a light book. Sometimes I will catch up with friends on the phone.
The next day, this repeats. At first it can be hard to get into the rhythm of L’Arche, but it truly is all about rhythm. It’s living life and it’s more about being than doing. To an outsider it may seem as if we aren’t doing very much, but once you live the life you realize that it can be hectic sometimes. Yet it is in the busyness that I still find moments of peace and stillness.
On the weekends our schedule changes a little bit. We get up around 8am and the core member spend the morning cleaning their own rooms and doing their own laundry. We have a more relaxed atmosphere on weekends taking our time away at different times depending on the needs of the house. Two of our core members participate in the special Olympics and do their training in the early afternoon.
Saturdays are also lots of fun because we tend to have staff gatherings in the evenings where we get to see the assistants from the other houses who we might not have seen throughout the week.
Deborah Ferber wrote this in November 2013, while living and working at L'Arche Daybreak, in Toronto.