Our Bold, Not-So-Secret Mission: A Place at the Table

I resisted the siren song of sleep and got up when my alarm clock chirped. (I have a clock that allows you to wake up to things like ‘Rainforest Sounds’ or ‘Birds Chirping’. My husband loves to make fun of it.) I dressed quickly, and sprinted to catch the bus downtown. I was heading to the fifth annual Heart of L’Arche Breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel, and I did not want to be late.

I’ve been a part of L’Arche since the Breakfast began, and I’ve never missed one. This year’s event held particular poignance, since my husband and I are relocating to a small town in Alabama in June. I can trace my history with L’Arche through the various Breakfasts, the roles I’ve held in each one. And I’ve learned valuable life lessons from this event, such as:

  • Always choose what you’re going to wear the night before a big event.
  • Be very kind to others early in the morning. (It’s all too easy to take offense unnecessarily.)
  • People who are always late will be late on momentous mornings. In order to stay friends, ask them to be ready 15-30 minutes before you actually need them to be.
  • Wearing a white sundress to a L’Arche event is like daring the fates; if you do, you’ll end up helping your friends get cleaned up after not one but three accidents.

This year, though, I wasn’t helping anyone get ready. This year, I didn’t have a formal role. This year, I wanted to attend more than ever, because I don’t take time with L’Arche for granted. The knowledge that my time here in DC is limited helped get me out the door, and it wasn’t long before I walked into the Grand Ballroom.

When I was a new assistant, I thought that the Breakfast was a little over-the-top. Since L’Arche strives for a simple lifestyle, which gives priority to relationships, hosting a fancy meal seemed incongruous. Now, I understand that a simple life doesn’t preclude an annual bash — that sometimes, going over the top to celebrate is exactly the right thing to do. The Breakfast is a way to honor our donors, our work, ourselves.

But instead of sitting down and enjoying the meal, I decided to visit as many tables as I could before the program began, like the social butterfly that I’m usually not. At every table, I found someone to hug right away, someone I’d missed, someone I’d been longing to see. (That’s my kind of party.)

As we took our seats, the first speaker recounted the last months of our family member and patriarch Gene’s life, the way the community had supported and accompanied him through his final days in 2011. After he finished speaking, he played a L’Arche video, one I’d seen many times before.

But what I hadn’t noticed was that, during the scenes of a L’Arche supper, my friend Allison is seated next to Gene. Every time the camera captures them, they’re talking and laughing, and the joyous moment pierced me. Seeing them together on film made me think, Here they are: the elderly man who died of cancer, and the young woman who faced her own life-threatening cancer and lived.

Seeing them together at the table made me remember what we hope in:  that, in the deepest reality, both of them are alive, and both have places at God’s table.

That we may be separated from our loved ones for a time, but that we will live to share a table with them again.

***

As the program ended, the mingling began. Suddenly, my friend William* barreled past a couple I’d been talking to, opening his arms to me. In seconds, I was on the receiving end of a tremendous hug. He said, with great emphasis, “I missed you!” in a way that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. For all our differences in personality (he’s very extroverted, a commanding, take-charge leader), I’ve missed him too.

Though he found me first, I was prepared for our meeting. I reached into my purse and handed him a print copy of Love’s Subversive Stance, which he’d requested several times. He handed me a pen, and I wrote a belated-birthday note, closing with, I’m proud of you. We’ve had our share of stressful moments, but as I handed him the book, I felt the past fall away in favor of the present. And for the rest of the day, I carried the scent of my friend William’s cologne with me. (I wasn’t kidding about the force of that hug!)

***

There’s one more thing I should tell you: technically, I wasn’t invited to the Breakfast. When I realized this a few days beforehand, I was momentarily saddened, but then I thought: I can still go; I’ll sit in my husband’s seat while he’s backstage running sound. But as I approached the registration table, I felt a flutter of nerves; what if they needed the extra seat for some reason? What if there was no room after all?

I needn’t have worried. My friend Melissa was running registration, and she smiled as she handed me a nametag. I was confused; how could I have a nametag when I hadn’t been invited? And then I looked down, and saw this:

Isn’t it beautiful, isn’t it true, that Love always finds room for one more?

***

How might you make room for another person in your life this week? Tell me in the comments!

If this post spoke to you, please share it with those you love.

***

Recommended Reading & Events:

  • If you’d like to watch the L’Arche video mentioned in this post, you can view it here.
  • I’ll be speaking on the subject of inclusive communities, giving a talk entitled, “Not A Burden, But A Privilege” at the St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Derwood, MD on Thursday, May 10th, from 7:30 – 8:30pm. If you’re in the DC/MD/VA area, I’d love to see you there! View the event flyer here.
  • Recent discovery: Lana Rush’s lovely blog, Along Came the Bird: The Real-Life Adventures of A Special Needs Family. (This week’s post highlighted Lana’s experience reading Your Creed of Care!)
  • I just read Saying Yes to Change: 10 Timeless Life Lessons for Creating Positive Change by Alex Blackwell of TheBridgeMaker. Alex’s book is filled with personal stories and vital principles for change, shared straight from the heart. You can learn more and read an excerpt here.

Liked this post? Click here to receive new posts via email, along with Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive).

*Names have been changed.

8 thoughts on “Our Bold, Not-So-Secret Mission: A Place at the Table

  1. I also noticed Gene and Allison in the video. I’m so glad you came and were able to celebrate with us. You and Jonathan have left a special imprint on L’Arche and will always have a place around the table (even if the new assistants haven’t a clue who you are!).

  2. Metod says:

    What a great post Caroline!
    Like the beautiful quote from Jean Vanier suggests, if we open our hearts to the people and listen to their pains and joys, there will be always a place in their homes, at their table for us. We have this saying in the old country of mine which when loosely translated reads : No matter how tight a place is, there is always enough space for good people.
    You guys had such wonderful time at the breakfast! It must have felt like a big family reunion. And your “secret mission” must have made it even more special for you and your friends 🙂
    Have a good week!

  3. donna says:

    I don’t know how you can make each post better and more heartfelt, but it certainly comes across! Sharing a table with loved ones is the best image- everyone welcome and accepted, whether we are separated by time and space, life or death.
    loved it!

Comments are closed.