Wherever I Go: An Open Letter to L’Arche
L’Arche* friends, I miss walking beside you through the world.
I miss holding your hand, Cassandra**, and how your fingernails always dug into my skin. Holding on tight helped you to balance, so I’d leave them there until I had to — ever so gently — pry them away.
We’d re-grip, but a few steps later, your nails would dig in again. I’d sigh, maybe, but mostly I wouldn’t mind the crescent moons left behind. They were imprints of trust.
You’d ask me to take you out … for tea, for sweets, for a break from routine. Because life was too short to be diligent all the time, because teatime is a chance to slow down and enjoy.
I miss pushing you, Pedro, in your wheelchair … which, of course, you’d insist with great volume and intensity that you did not need. To your great dismay, I’d pull the chair along anyway. We’d go less than a hundred yards before you’d turn to me, ready to rest. I’d help you buckle in, and never say I told you so.
Though it could be stressful at times, I love that you always wanted to leave that wheelchair behind. You, with your indomitable spirit, always believed you could walk the whole way … just as I always thought I wouldn’t need to bring an extra layer of clothing when I always, always did.
I miss pushing your wheelchair too, Miguel; I miss hearing the sound of your contented, buzzing purr. I’d see you looking around and beaming peace on everyone. You, who spent so much time indoors, never took the outdoors for granted.
I remember how you’d notice things at the margins, things the rest of us wouldn’t see … the bums sitting on the sidewalk, the brown chickadees fluttering around an abandoned pizza crust.
You’d go to Starbucks every Monday, and fill up the room with your quiet gladness. You’d extend your hand to everyone. One man refused to shake, once, and it was his loss. You drew your hand back, confused, undaunted.
I miss walking down to McDonald’s with you, Leo. Truth be told, I can’t stand McDonald’s, but I have a soft spot for it because of you. You’d make your daily pilgrimage, shuffling slowly. Such a pace meant more time to take notice; you once said you liked the scent of autumn leaves as they fell from the trees.
Whenever I’d see you walking alone, I’d be struck by your vulnerability. You’d go out into a world that doesn’t always understand your speech, your story. Every day, you’d show up for your life. You didn’t let fear hold you back; you’d get up to speak in front of a crowd even though you had terrible stage fright.
I miss walking beside you, Theresa, watching you hunt for pennies. Your patience was marvelous, and never more so than on the day I came to pick you up at the airport.
It was late and we were tired, but you didn’t give me a hard time when I couldn’t remember where I’d parked the car. Instead, you walked with me through the parking decks for what seemed like forever. When we finally came upon the old L’Arche van, we jumped for joy.
On ordinary days, we’d walk along, you talking to yourself aloud, me talking to myself in silence, companionable. We’d hold hands, stopping only for glimmers of gold, pennies on the sidewalk.
I miss being able to walk beside you. But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten.
Because of you, I slow down and listen; I write down my parking spots.
I notice the flutter of the chickadees, feasting on crumbs.
I greet strangers, because when I do, I see you in their smiles.
I bring an extra layer, even though I really believe I won’t need it.
I treat myself to a cup of tea in the afternoons.
And most of all, I show up for my life.
We may be separated by distance, but really, that’s about it.
You are with me wherever I go.
Who is with you wherever you go? Join the conversation in the comments!
Fed up with an ‘impossible’ person? Tired of a situation that may never change?
Pick up my new Kindle* Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing).
*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can use Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.
More New Posts from Yours Truly:
- Guest Post at Gillian Marchenko’s blog: The Most Beautiful and Terrible of Promises: Lessons Learned from my Brother with Autism
- Guest Post at Autism Key: Coping with the Confusion of Autism Treatment and Care
- Leaving Normal: Regular Weekly Column at Autism After 16
- Caregifters Book Series: Love (Contributing Writer)
Upcoming speaking engagements – if you’re in the area(s), I’d love to see you there!
- Faith Inclusion Network, That All May Worship Conference, Norfolk, VA, March 14- 15
- University of North Alabama, Social Media & Marketing Class (students only), April 16, 2013
- Autism Society’s 44th Annual Conference, Pittsburgh, PA, July 10-13, 2013
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*L’Arche (French for ‘The Ark’) is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I worked with the DC community for 5 years.
**All names have been changed.
About Caroline McGraw
I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. I grew up in New Jersey (think peaceful suburb, not Newark), graduated from Vassar with honors, then served as a live-in caregiver and program director at L'Arche Washington DC. Nowadays, my husband renovates our historic 1901 home in northwestern Alabama, while I try (& fail) to keep our cat Bootsie from developing an epic tuna fish addiction. It's a beautiful life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.