By Justin Lorenz
I find such delight in dinners at L’Arche St. Louis, where there are lovely and unpredictable contributions from every person at the table. Occasionally the meals are quiet; but usually I end up with a used cloth napkin on my head, a shirt soaked by a squirt gun, or find that someone has made my chair disappear when returning from the restroom!
I am called to presence, to joy, and to belonging within a community through these routine meal ordeals.
After cooks Pauline McDonald and Madeline Seefeldt serve dinner on the table, the bell is rung; we gather at table, including any guests. Pauline gives thanks for events of her day, for cooking with Madeline, and for the food. Richard Calcaterra sits with his fork ready to dive in as “Amen”s sprinkle out our mouths. As we eat, people end up getting asked about the events of their day and the people they got to see. Richard affirms the quality of the meal: “This is good!”
After Jim Santen’s seconds are finished, though, words seem to lose their importance. Suddenly, he’s flung his napkin at Maria Fitzgerald who catches it and shoots it back at him before he’s done laughing. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Pauline is filling up the opening of a plastic shark toy with water at the kitchen sink. Then I see Richard winding up to pitch a cloth napkin in my direction. It goes over my head and we smile big smiles before I fetch it. The next thing we know, Pauline’s squeezing the shark toy toward a surprised, and now wet, Madeline. Meanwhile, Chip Beers goes back and forth between rolling his eyes at our tomfoolery, and tossing napkins himself followed by a heavy chuckle. As April Ulinski gets up to use the restroom, Jim slides her chair out of the dining room. Jim can’t hide his amusement as she comes out, sees her chair is missing, and, with wide eyes, points in accusation at him.
Once our faces are covered in crumbs or our clothes are soaking wet, Chip picks a song from the song bowl. It’s “You are my Sunshine:” his favorite. We sing a verse and then continue the symphony in the kitchen through the cleaning we each do. The cooks go off to plan an evening prayer for everyone. Jim does a little dance while drying the dishes, preparing them for the next night’s shenanigans.
When I am outside our L’Arche home, I have a hard time recreating these eventful dinners that get me out of my head and into the rest of my body. I sometimes sense that society encourages me to keep to myself and hide my authentic and playful nature, but in L’Arche that child-like side of me is not only welcomed but deemed essential in growing friendships.
I am proud to be part of L’Arche, which invites me to sit at a table (if our chair hasn’t disappeared!) where both our stomachs and our spirits are filled.
Justin Lorenz, a Cincinnati native and Saint Louis University alum, has been an assistant of the L’Arche St. Louis community since the opening of its first home in 2011. He enjoys traveling to new places, writing poems, and hugs.