When I first moved into L’Arche, I quickly became aware of how technology nagged me and distracted me from real relationships with real people. I’m ashamed to say that my cell phone often was more important to me than live conversations in those early days. Sometimes it is still a challenge when I’m sitting in the living room with four adults who are not necessarily intellectually stimulating and repeat the same phrases over and over to not glance at a Facebook message or text a theologian-friend instead of engaging in their life style.
Being at L’Arche has been a journey into simplicity. It’s been about finding my true spiritual center while also walking with the “least of these” – the poor whom Jesus often told us to love and care for. In particular, one relationship has really transformed my life – my friendship with a middle-aged man named Christopher.
Christopher came to our community 25 years ago when he was about my age (I just turned 23). Christopher is legally blind and also is non-verbal. Growing up, Christopher would never be able to speak his first word, learn how to eat a sandwich on his own, or take his first steps unsupported. I have lived in community for the past 4 years of my life in different ways. First I lived on the Tyndale residence – an intense community of likeminded believers who prayed and worshiped together often. Then, I moved to a Mennonite seminary in the states that was big on intentional living and we even took courses preparing ourselves for this possibility. Yet, nothing in those four years would have prepared me to understand how to live in community with someone who is non-verbal. To me, community seemed to be getting together with a group of people who have similar interests and hobbies to yours and who want to share life by living and serving together. Yet, how was I supposed to find anything in common with a man twice my age who didn’t say a single word?
At first my relationship with Christopher was a bit hard to master. It was hard to think of Christopher and I being friends rather than me simply being his caregiver. It was hard for me to have any idea of what togetherness looks like when one person uses a wheelchair and does not always make any indication of understanding where you are coming from. It was also hard for me to know how to share life – my deepest pains, fears, and happiness with a man who couldn’t respond in the way I thought I needed him to.
Yet, getting to know Christopher has brought immense joy and gratification into my life. Christopher is an excellent teacher. Anyone who wants to know what living in community is really like should get to know him. Christopher has taught me that togetherness means loving and caring for one another, accepting their true self – flaws and all, and walking with them in supportive and non-judgmental ways. Through my relationship with Christopher I have learned that togetherness can happen when we share a meal together, listen to good music together, or laugh at a good joke.
I’m a peace studies theologian and activist at heart. I’ve done all the usual peacenik type things – rallies, protests, and petitions. I’ve served in soup kitchens, gone overseas to slums, and read Ghandi. All of these things are very important. I’ve tried to live intentionally and intentionally live. Everyone’s story about togetherness and sharing in peace formation is different and if done in God honouring ways helps to bring the Kingdom of Heaven a reality one step closer to earth. For me, peace begins with togetherness and this togetherness in my life looks like creating home with a group of adults who have developmental disabilities. For me, togetherness looks like sharing Shalom with my brother who doesn’t say a word.
This article originally appeared in BeanZine – a Canadian grassroots magazine devoted to peace activism and social justice. If you like what you see and hear, please check out my personal blog to read more about how L’Arche continues to mold and shape me as a Christian, a member of society, and a budding seminarian.
Deborah Ferber is a Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.