Ric Rose
Puyallup, WA USA

I think it is safe to say Jean Vanier felt called by something beyond himself in 1964. He chose to live a humble, simple quotidian with people who are developmentally disabled. He talked and wrote about his experience living in this new type of faith-based community. Others followed in his footsteps. Eighteen years later, I was one of them.

It was on these steps, on the steps of Hilltop House in Tacoma to be exact, that I met Bill Downey. Bill was old (at least from my vantage point back then), hard of hearing, bald, and he had no teeth. He was Down Syndrome, and the doctors say Bill lived well past his life expectancy. Lucky for me. Bill was also a true gentleman, the best dressed person in our community, who had one of the best senses of humor of any person I have met in my life. We became best of friends. Bill was truly a free soul, unbound by social conventions. He called me Ray just because he wanted to.

Whenever we walked along, Bill always held on to my my arm because he had a trick knee that would him like a rock when it gave out. His friendly nature, which can only be described as unfettered, with no small dose of devilish humor sewn in, would drag me by the arm to introduce me to some new stranger who happened across our path. "Do you know Ray?" "Hi, well, actually my name is Ric, and....." A new relationship began. As uncomfortable as this was for me, I can say it never turned out badly. And I think some good came out of it more than a time or two. Bill always seemed to be genuinely happy to see me and he seemed to be concerned about me when I was gone. Bill was a groomsman at my wedding.Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book entitled, "The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference," an intriguing book about how memes (ideas or behaviors) spread in a culture. The book talks about "mavens," people in a society who act as connectors, introducers if you will, who understand a certain human phenomena and feel called to spread the word.

They are community builders. It is also, I believe, how social change takes place, and we see its effects everyday. Jean Vanier can be seen as a spiritual maven. Bill Downey was also a maven, at least for me, of friendship, love, faith, and community. This, of course, was Vanier's great spiritual insight and discovery, and it became his life's work. Friendships are a mystery to me. Why some people connect with others for the reasons they do I will leave for people wiser than me. All I know is that I loved Bill Downey. I still do, though he died a long while ago. He is still in my dreams. This must mean that he remains alive in my heart. With this gift, I will be eternally grateful for Bill and for the man who introduced us, Jean Vanier.“To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance.” Jean Vanier


 

Matcha
Detroit, USA

Jean,

Just listened to an old interview (the program On Being) aired on a local PBS radio station. The interviewer called you a "living saint", but we are only human filled with the usual emotions including some of the less desirable emotions and mental tortures at times, so as a human, a "messenger of God" would be an apt title.

The beauty of your trust in God, your fellow man, combined with your firm realization of reality of human frailty is refreshing. We all deserved to be unconditionally loved (in the sense of someone caring about your feelings, person, and well being) by one another, as is taught by many religions. We all crave acceptance from our community, regardless of our socially designated labels.

Each day, the blessed wonders of the different people who pass through the path of my existence teaches love, tolerance, and the amazing wonder of differences and harmony of dichotomies. Some people who are the seeming picture perfect examples of life, fail utterly as human beings, due to their lack of trust in God and their fear of loving. Other wonder people, may be "limited", or "disabled" in some manner, but the depth of their heart, trust in God, and their joy in life make them more human than their "normal" counterparts, and their lack of fear of showing love makes them the most astoundingly beautiful children of God. If everyone was the same, then it would be a grey and boring world. No one person is greater or better than another, and each person is worthy of our love just because God gifted us with their presence.


Richard Everett
Guildford, UK

Dear Jean,

Alongside my work as a playwright and screenwriter, over the last 5 years I have run a weekly drama workshop with the L'Arche community in Bognor. And every week I return home completely exhausted and yet truly touched by the humour and warmth and insights of the members of my group - and always asking myself the same simple question: "Who is the really one with 'special needs' here?" My group have become my friends and and my mentors, I am indebted to them.Over the years, we have produced little showcases and Christmas pantomimes, but most especially some short films and one in particular called 'The Most Important Person in the World' which I would very much like you to see. It is based on a series of workshops we did exploring the question: 'What does it mean to be important?' - the Queen was important, they felt, and James Bond and a host of other celebrities. But who was 'important' to them, I asked, and who were they 'important' to?

This short 8 minute film is based on their ideas which I simply scripted and shot. I would dearly love you to see it for two special reasons. Firstly, it pays tribute to the late and saintly Henri Nouwen whose life and work has been an inspiration to me over many years. Secondly it is a 'thank you' to you for your vision. I hope you see it, and are heartened by it, as I was in making it.

And thank you again.

Here is the link:http://www.richardeverett.co.uk/other/l-arche-workshop/

With very best wishes and much gratitudeRichard Everett


 

Gayle Pard
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

I moved to Florida to help my sister as she was unable to work and provide for herself and teen age child because of her Lupus. I was converting to Catholicism as I had been attending the Catholic church for quite a while.

Not having a job when I arrived, I started putting out resumes to different social service type positions. I got home and sat, praying, for God to help me find the job that He wanted me to do. After praying I laid down and fell asleep. the phone ringing awoke me. It was a place called Palm Beach Habilitation Center calling. They had a position to offer and after the interview the next day I was hired to manage the group home which housed ten men with a variety of different abilities. I loved my job so much; the men taught me so much! One Mother was supposed to travel from Palm Beach County to Miami to volunteer for a week at a gathering of priests, nuns and lay people where Jean was having a conference- and she could not attend and asked me to go in her place.

We were coming upon Spring and the Easter holiday. My main job was to type the Masses into French and English. I had the most wonderful time there and actually had my first confession with an elderly priest from France. I was offered First Communion but declined to take it till my class all took it together. I left there with renewed life and felt I had found many comrades in our quest to not just work with peoples with "diffabilities" aand to continue what I was doing- and their families; but that I had been doing the right thing with my friends.When I returned to work I contacted the parents and asked their permission to teach their adult children about God. They were surprised and most said they didn't think they would understandWhen I left my position, they had all had the chance to pray. to learn about Our Father and Our Savior.

Fast forward to 10 years ago now. My daughter and son in law delivered their first child, a beautiful son, diagnosed with Down Syndrome. They were devastated. I moved back to Edmonton immediately to support them. Crispin is almost ten years old now. He is non-verbal (a bit of sign) and has a dual diagnosis of Autism. But God had prepared me for this. Whilst I thought I was there to help my sister, God was there to prepare me for more understanding, love and guidance.

A coincidence? NO, a miracle.Thank you to Jean for re-enforcing my beliefs, for touching my heart so that I can touch others' hearts.

With Love,

Gayle Pard


Shiling
Singapore

Dear Mr Vanier,

I am a doctor working with people with intellectual disability. By providence, I started volunteering with this very special population more than 10 years ago, first as a befriender, and then as a doctor. I am now working to advocate good quality and accessible healthcare for the intellectually disabled in Singapore. I have always shared with friends and family that working with the intellectually disabled brings me immense joy, but I could not quite explain why...until I read a book titled Adam: God's Beloved, written by Fr Henri Nouwen about the time he spent in the L'Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto.

As I read Fr Nouwen's description, it began to dawn on me that the deep joy and sensation of 'truth' I experience comes from the innate beauty of people with intellectual disability. In and despite their superficial imperfections, they radiate love, joy and life. I now refer to this as, 'The Hidden Light'. A light hidden to all who are yet to encounter them, but deeply experienced by those who take the step to venture close.I have been deeply blessed and touched by my encounters with people with intellectual disability all these years. You are so very right...they are gifts to the world, and have taught 'stronger' people like me, so much about life, and about what it means to be human.

Thank you so much for all you've done, for all you believe in, and for all you've been fighting for.

With best wishes,

Shiling


 

Robert Minder
Canton, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Dear Jean Vanier, I am an old school teacher who is a great admirer of you and L'Arche. I finished writing a novel recently. It will be published in May. There is a character in the novel who is a confluence of you and Xavier Le Pichon. The character does not have a huge role, but it is for me a precious one still. The novel is in English. I'd be honored if you'd allow me to send you a copy. {I'd need an address.} I'll understand of course if you need to decline, but I want you to know anyhow. The novel's name is Frequencies of Life. Thank you for being such a deeply caring soul. Sincerely, Robert Minder