I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. About what it means to have and build community. About my beautiful L’Arche community out in Washington, DC.
At the beginning of January, I flew back east to visit my family and celebrate the wedding of two dear friends from L’Arche. I surprised my Euclid family by showing up for dinner several days before the wedding (I say surprised, but I had been on the dinner calendar for weeks) and soaked in an evening of watching tv with the guys, sharing a meal, and passing the candle in prayer. It was a much-needed retreat into what once was a weekly ritual of simply ‘being with’ one another. After dinner at Euclid, I went down the street and made it to Ontario House just in time to join them for their after-dinner prayer, what a treat! The wedding itself was one of the most fun I’ve ever been to. In part, I’m sure, because I felt like I knew almost everyone there. At every turn, there was a new person to catch up with and another hug to give. Throughout the entire event, I was reminded of the ways L’Arche leads us to celebrate each other and each other’s gifts.
Then the week before last, my friend Waltico, one of the members of Ontario Home, passed away rather suddenly. Walton was a coffee drinking, pen stealing, paper folding, Cuban storyteller who had the ability to invite me into ever-needed quiet peaceful moments. Hearing him “purr” (even from another room) always gave me the sense that all was right in the world. One of my favorite things was hearing him come into the L’Arche office and rushing to find a pen and a piece of paper for him to horde in his mochila and to fold and tuck away in his front breast pocket. Since his passing, I have been overwhelmed by the way in which current and former L’Arche GWDCers have celebrated Walton together. Texts back and forth and an evergrowing collection of photos and memories shared on the “L’Arche GWDC Assistants and Alumni” Facebook group have been a constant reminder of how well L’Arche mourns and grieves together. What a gift this man and this community have been to me.
I still haven’t found this here in Denver. I have bits and pieces of it, but I can feel the difference between my ease at L’Arche and the struggle with which I begin building new relationships. After almost three years of being surrounded by the rituals and routines of a bustling tight-knit community, it’s tempting to feel isolated by my ever-changing schedule and limited time spent with people who know me so well. I had forgotten how much time and energy is needed to create that depth of familiarity. But yet there are glimmers of community beginning to shine through. Nights spent chatting with my roommates, moments laughing with my coworkers, and of course the gift of having one of my closest friends here in Denver as well. It’s been important for me to remember that the speed with which these new relationships gain depth and meaning cannot be expected to match that of what I experienced at L’Arche. That very few places have the same intentionality around building meaningful relationships that L’Arche has, and that for many people, that type of friendship building is new and/or different. I find myself facing the unknown, but full of hope and anticipation for the ways I will be able to continue developing this new community of mine.
Perhaps the hardest part of my first six months here in this place has not been in building community, but in realizing that I am much less sure about the program that brought me here than I had believed. Two classes and one semester in and I’m more confused about what I want to do with my life than I think I’ve ever been. Frustrated by the program’s structure, disappointed in my disinterest, I’m taking this next semester to do some deliberating and reevaluating, and of course some focused community building.
Lots of Love, Mandi Jo