Coming into L’arche community, I didn’t know what to expect. We had been told it was a community that helped with mentally and physically handicapped individuals, but this barely scratched the surface of what L’arche truly was. I spent time in the day center where we did arts and crafts. At every turn, I met new people who brightened up the room in their own way. One particularly special moment I had was with a young man who, at first, I thought was completely nonverbal. However, the head volunteer, Nancy, —who had known this young man for over a decade—helped me enter his world and see the way he did.
When I first met John, he was sitting in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth. He would mumble occasionally, but it was so quiet and fast I thought it was gibberish or even another language. However, Clara understood him perfectly. She asked him if he wanted to listen to some music. He smiled and said, “Valentino”, referencing a smooth jazz CD nearby. When the music started to play, he started humming a little below his breath, his eyes lighting up with a smile. Nancy explained to me that John was born early and that resulted in his blindness and his mental handicap. What it didn’t stop was his zest for life.
To help him practice spelling and counting, Nancy instructed me to toss a large basketball rhythmically to the music. As he caught onto the rhythm, John joined me in counting and he grew more and more excited at each number. Once he got to 100 with me, he asked to go again. That next time, he was beatboxing along with the drums and saxophones, all while keeping in time with the ball and the music and counting. Music was his gateway to interacting, and through it I was able to be a part of his world full of sound and wonder for a short while. I felt myself smiling alongside him, amazed by the simple joy he took in making a little music that he loved so much. That moment of connection was something beyond simple verbal or visual communication. That moment I shared counting and spelling with John were moments of being present. Through the rhythm of a ball, we connected and understood one another in a way that was not possible just minutes before.
While the day at L’arche ended far too soon, it gave me the wonderful chance to see how people affected by disabilities truly live: with a light and joy all their own.
Class of 2017
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