“You are approaching Friendship,” Taylor’s GPS told us early on Monday morning. And we were, in more ways than we realized. Friendship House is the name of the house that two of our group members slept at during our week spent in the L’Arche community in Overland Park, Kansas. Two of the other houses are named Harmony House and Mercy House, appropriately so. I often contemplate and reflect on the places I find my feet; not just physical places, but also emotional and metaphorical places. While we physically stepped into this community and these homes, I found my feet in places of friendship, harmony, and mercy more times than I can count throughout our week.
“You are approaching Community.” L’Arche is an international organization that plants communities of group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities in various cities around the world. As we stepped into this community, we were immediately met with warm smiles and greetings. We were invited in with open arms and considered friends and roommates from the beginning. We lived in the time we had with the core members by sharing meals, painting and doing yard work while they were at work or at their day sites, getting to know them through conversations, and spending time with them at church, dances, a hayride, and a cookout.
“You are approaching Harmony.” At the cookout, we were able to see how everyone in the community found friendship in one another and how they lived their lives together. Each core member knew the others, knew what makes them tick and what makes them happy. They also know how to push each other’s buttons ever so lightly. I found my feet in a place of harmony that night, a community of very different people with various giftings, all with something to offer to the community, coming together and breaking bread, loving each other well and loving the space they were in.
“You are approaching Joy.” We had prayer and worship one night with the whole community before the dance, and a song was sung about joy. Everyone held noise makers or shakers or tambourines to contribute to the cacophony of the music being made. Everyone sang or danced or rocked along with the beat of the music (except one core member who happens to be deaf; he shook his maraca to his own beat). I found my feet in a place of simple joy… joy in the present moment, joy in being together, joy in music and community.
“You are approaching Solidarity.” One morning while the core members were at work or their day sites, our group had brunch with the L’Arche assistants. We sat around and shared a meal (much of the community of L’Arche Heartland seems to revolve around food) and listened to the assistants tell stories. While they told hilarious stories of the core members and happenings within L’Arche, the assistants’ love and appreciation for this community were never in question, and I found my feet in a place of loving solidarity. They chose to step into this community as well and come alongside the core members as helpers and friends. They chose to be advocates for those with intellectual disabilities, and show to both the core members and the community all they have to offer. They showed to us our place in this loving solidarity, as well.
“You are approaching Acceptance.” One of the things about the core members at L’Arche, is that no matter who steps into their community, they accept them unconditionally. Acceptance, though, while it may initially mean they just take you as you are, also includes curiosity. As they accepted us in, the core members let their curiosity drive them to getting to know us better. Accepting someone includes getting to know them, what makes them special, what they have to offer. The director of L’Arche Heartland challenged our group with looking for the gifts that each core member has that contribute to the beauty and diversity of the community. As the week went on, I found my feet in a place of curiosity and acceptance as I looked for the gifts of each core member. The same gift doesn’t present the same in everyone, and everyone has gifts unique to them. Getting to know each member better allowed for acceptance and understanding of who they are as an individual and what they have to offer to the community and to the world.
“You are approaching Learning.” The majority of us on the trip are studying to go into medicine, and several of us have already worked in clinical settings. We realized that we had to flip a switch in our brains and approach the core members from a place of coming alongside them as friends and companions, rather than thinking about what we could do for them, which can sometimes be a challenge when you’ve been taught for so long to look for ways to help people. I found my feet in a place of learning; learning what it means to act out the Jesuit value of Men and Women For and With Others, learning how to be a friend and a roommate to an individual who happens to have an intellectual disability, rather than coming from a caretaker’s perspective. Learning simple joy and acceptance and love and friendship and community from the core members and the assistants we were blessed to spend time with.
“You are approaching Gratitude.” The list of places I found my feet in during that week of fall break is virtually inexhaustible. As we were driving back to Creighton, and in the weeks I have been back, I have found my feet in a place of gratitude; gratitude for the experience, gratitude for the community of L’Arche Heartland, gratitude for the things I learned and how I can apply these things to my life here and now, at home.
Susannah Black, Class of 2019
The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.