Thursday, January 5, 2017

Choose Joy

One of the core values of L'Arche is "Live in Joy".   This comes naturally to us in L’Arche – we are people of celebration, of music and birthday parties and rejoicing in the small moments of everyday life.  But we are also people of suffering, of rejection and institutionalization and unfulfilled dreams.  What I am learning more and more is that being joyful – really choosing joy – can happen even in the midst of this pain and loss.

Like all lessons, I have to learn them over and over.  My most recent teacher in the lesson of choosing joy is Jannette.

Jannette is a woman in her early fifties, who lives alone in a small, one bedroom apartment on the west side of Saint John, NB.  She has a welcoming smile and a witty response to just about every situation, and has been a faithful member of L’Arche Saint John since its founding as the New Dawn community more than 20 years ago.  She can always be counted on to come to prayer, community night, and just about any other event L’Arche Saint John hosts.  Last spring, despite her limited income, Jannette made the trip to Halifax to join the Altantic Region for our Draw the Circle Wide event.  On my last visit to Saint John, Jannette invited me over to her place for tea.

Her apartment is small, and it is full – full of collections of angels, spoons, dolls, and other knickknacks.  (On the top of her kitchen cabinets, among other treasures, there is a bronzed piggy bank bust of John F. Kennedy!)  Jannette keeps all her collections meticulously clean, and can proudly share the story behind each and every piece.

During my visit, Jannette also openly shared with me some of her own life story.  If you are looking for a story of grief, you need look no further.  Jannette grew up in foster care, in a home where more than 1000 children came and went over her childhood years.  She never met her birth father, and lost a brother to suicide.  As an adult, she had a deep desire to connect with her birth sister, and although she did find her, living in an institution in the Maritimes, her sister died before they could meet.  Jannette told me all this, and more, over tea.  When I expressed surprise that she shared so freely, Jannette said that telling her story is like her therapy – a way for her to cope with the struggles she has lived, and to learn from them.

As I got ready to leave, Jannette brought me a piece of paper and a pen, and asked me to write a prayer, along with my name, and drop it in her “prayer jar”.  She explained that she asks all her guests to do that.  Then, on evenings when she is eating alone at her tiny kitchen table, she takes a prayer from the jar, reads it, and prays for the person who wrote it, and their intention.  That person is her companion for her solitary meal.

As we live this daily life in L'Arche, is there a better teacher than Jannette?  As she opens herself to others, and chooses to live in gratitude and joy, she invites me, and all of us, to do the same.

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