“To love is to reveal to another person that they are beautiful.” We hear Jean Vanier speak these words often as he proclaims the message that L’Arche has to offer the world, and we live these words in small, simple ways in our homes and programs every day. But is rare that we have the opportunity to celebrate them in recognizable, public ways. On July 18th, 2009, when we gathered to celebrate Angus and Heather’s wedding, that is just what we did.
As I stood among the 300 plus people at the church in Inverness, I was struck by what some have called the “layers of significance” I was witnessing. I was aware of how many other people with intellectual disabilities have been told that their dream of love is unattainable, who for many reasons cannot fully express the love that lives inside them. I felt the importance and meaning of the sacrament of marriage, and the injustice done to so many who are denied participation in this institution. And, most importantly, I was aware of the significance of this moment in my friend Angus’ life. Angus, a gentle man of few words, has been a member of our community since its founding. And he has always been very aware of his place in the social order. When Angus first arrived at L’Arche, he wanted to know why he did not have a nickname, a common practice for virtually all other men his age in Inverness County. So, when he helped peel the logs for the Gunns’ cabin, he became “Angus Peeler”. This nickname was, and remains, a source of pride for Angus, a recognition of his value, of the fact that he belongs.
After the wedding ceremony and reception, Angus and Heather approached the microphone at the front of the hall to say their thank yous. Angus, in his trademark whispering voice, thanked people for coming and for making it such a beautiful wedding. Then he glanced toward Heather and said, “Now the wife is going to say a few words.” Or course, there were gales of laughter, and we have recalled that moment several times since with a smile. It only took about two hours for Heather to become “the wife”! But I think there are layers of significance to this comment as well. Angus knows what it means to be married, to be a husband. Not only in terms of loving and taking care of each other, but also in terms of how husbands and wives relate to each other, and how they relate to the community around them. I think Angus was waiting his whole life to take on the role of “the husband”, which is why he so easily refers to his beloved as “the wife”.
After the wedding, Angus said it had been the best day of his life. Marriage may not be the answer to everyone’s deepest desire, but it certainly seems to have filled a void for Angus and for Heather. I feel so privileged to be a part of their journey, and a part of the journeys of so many others who are seeking love and fulfillment. Whether it be their own apartment, a new job, to be celebrated on their birthday, to have their photo framed on the wall, to have a best friend - I give thanks for being a part of a community that, every day, seeks to reveal the beauty in each person, and in so doing helps me see the beauty in myself.