(Beth is a 2006 graduate of Assumption College, where she had a double major in Social Rehabilitation and Philosophy. She is learning how to handle unexpected challenges gracefully during her year as an AMA.)
An Experience of Surrender and Trust
I had always known that doing a year of volunteer service would be a time of challenge and growth. For me, when I left for England to begin working in L’Arche, a Christian community for developmentally disabled adults, I figured that the greatest challenge of the year would be related to the work I was doing.
However, the greatest challenge that came my way was something completely unexpected. In October, my usually very healthy boyfriend and partner in crime became ill, and by November, it was clear that something was seriously wrong and that he would need to return to the States for testing and treatment.
For Matt, his family, and I, this was something that came completely out of left field. The decision to fly home to be with Matt during his testing and recovery was clear to me, it took only a day for me to realize. Although I felt badly for the other assistants in my house that I was leaving behind, I knew that home with Matt was where I needed to be at the time. I think it was a time of real growth for all of us, though. In particular, getting to see his family rally together at such a difficult time helped me get to know them on a completely new level.
Once Matt’s condition became more manageable, I made the decision to return to L’Arche to continue the work I enjoyed doing. I was nervous about returning to L’Arche, this time not because I was afraid for Matt, as he was doing better and I knew that he was in the hands of his family and friends. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it alone, if the community would be mad at me for leaving, if I would remember all that I had learnt.
In the days before I left, I received a card from my friend and co-director of the AMA program, Sr. Mary Ann. She wrote to me, “This will be an experience of surrender and trust for you…Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you and He will do wonders in you.”
L’Arche welcomed me home with open arms. The first few days were filled with visits, cards, and hugs. It’s only been about a week since I’ve returned, but so far things are going well. I have had some struggles, and I’m sure I will continue to – but I feel at peace about my decision to return, and it’s helpful to know that I have such a supportive community around me, and many friends praying for me back home.
REFLECTIONS: L'ARCHE ENGLAND AND IRELAND
L'Arche Cork, Ireland
(Flannery grew up in Worcester, MA and is a 2010 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Her heart for service began long ago and she strives to continue allowing her heart to grow through her experience at L'Arche).
Tell Me About Yourself
In my first week here I had a meeting with the Assistants Coordinator of L’Arche Cork who asked me to tell her about myself. I began with my family, my six brothers and sisters, my parents, my great-grandparents and everyone in between. I moved on to my hometown, my friends, my schooling, my Irish ancestry, my convictions and my douts. I, Flannery Kearney, arrived at L’Arche with a resume, a profile of the merits I had achieved and the degrees I had earned. Though I can sometimes stumble when trying to relay the most important parts of my life, it was not hard to tell her who I am.
Most of the residents with disabilities in L’Arche were originally living in mental institutions, and were brought to L’Arche so that they might live a life that is uniquely theirs. One of the residents I live, Joe, with knows nothing of his family other than that as a baby he was abandoned by his mother in Dublin. For thirty years he lived in various institutions around Ireland until he came to L’Arche in 1990. The world did not know what to do with Joe, and without a family he was forgotten and given a life that lacked any sense of freedom or purpose. Unlike me, at 22, he may have found it challenging to tell a story of his life. At L’Arche he was given the chance to establish himself, to live freely and discover his own humanity. He goes to the dog track every Saturday, works 3 days a week at the local supermarket, takes care of seven gold fish, and goes downtown to the cinema every Sunday. (He’s seen the latest Harry Potter about a dozen times.)
I should mention of course that here in L’Arche he has the freedom to drive me crazy too. He’s the pickiest eater I’ve ever met, and last night at dinner he complained about the Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie I’d made and insisted I make him his usual turnips, mashed potatoes and fish. While I’m sitting here, writing this, he’s sitting across from me telling me that my mother is a giraffe, and he’ll promise not to tell anyone if I pay him 50 million euro. This is life here, and it’s not too different than the life any of us are used to. I know there were times in my childhood where I tested my parent’s patience, but I know they would agree that no matter how many headaches I gave them, it was worth it to give me a life where at least I had the freedom of choices, and that with that freedom I was able to grow into a more full human being. After living with Joe for five months, we have successfully established friendship and created a home together, one where we are both continuing to grow in the space and warmth that only a home can provide.