The first time I engaged in a meaningful conversation with a person with an intellectual disability wasn’t one of my best moments. As many young adults, I felt insecure and awkward. Michael and I had just gotten to know each other. He observed me carefully and seemed interested in the this and that of my life. I was mostly interested in brooding on my issues. A couple of hours later at the dinner table, during a moment of relative calm, Michael said to the crowd: “I wonder why our guest is so sad?”
I was that guest, and while every face turned toward me, my own face turned from slightly pale to purplish red. I felt exposed and had no idea what to do or to say. Fortunately, I didn’t have to, because a woman – somebody I had never met before – walked around the table to give me a hug. The whole group erupted in cheers and celebration. Somebody took my arms and held them up as if I had just won the jackpot. My embarrassment had no chance in the midst of such a powerful display of compassion and celebration. I had to let the contagious force of welcome and acceptance take its hold of me. Michael beamed and was clearly pleased with the turn of events. I, for my part, learned an important lesson: Michael and his friends created a safe space for me, a space where I was welcomed and celebrated. Michael himself entered a brave space: he was courageous to welcome my moody self. He and his friends were brave to celebrate me, the stranger.
L’Arche is a school of life for hundreds of assistants, mostly young people like I used to be. Thousands of L’Arche alumni have taken their own personal lesson into their lives. People with intellectual disabilities can teach us to create safe spaces. They inspire us to enter into brave spaces, those spaces in our lives where we are uncomfortable, but where we take our courage in both hands to stand up for each other, to celebrate the gifts of all.
If you feel that our society needs more people who can create safe and brave spaces, support L’Arche. Get to know a local community, subscribe to our newsletter and public education activities or donate to further our mission.