One of the things that L’Arche does best is celebrate. There are rituals for three kinds of celebrations in our community: birthdays, anniversaries, and farewells.

Birthdays mark the passage of another year in the life of a member of our community; we give them a collective present so that all attending the celebration can write, or make art, or talk about the gifts of that person, and give it to them.

Adrian, author of this blog, sits smiling with a L'Arche core member on zir right, with a lamp in the background. Ze is holding a tray of chocolate cupcakes with a single candle lit in it.

Photo credit: Katie Archibald-Woodward

Anniversaries celebrate the year (or years) that someone has spent with L’Arche, and marks their “yes!” to another year with L’Arche. We share stories of our favorite memories of this person from the previous year.

Farewells are a chance to bless and send forth someone leaving the community. We each give them a wish, a blessing, a story of gratitude, or a parting thought to send them on their journey; we gather round them and sing.

I’ve had a chance to experience all three in L’Arche Atlanta this year. I wanted to share the celebration that L’Arche gave me on my birthday, back in April (this post has been much-delayed), which was also the anniversaries of two of our community as well.

The three of us being celebrated agreed on a request for enchiladas for the main meal, and all our guests brought small sides. I had the joy of finding temporary hair color in all six colors of the rainbow, and celebrated with people outside giving temporary color, streaks, and shades.

Adrian, author of this blog, stands outdoors on a porch and faces to the left, displaying shoulder-length hair dyed rainbow stripes.

Each of us was celebrated in turn. As it was my birthday, my community presented me with a gift they thought represented me well: an apron, which came with a silver pen so everyone present could write my gifts on it. I could not have been more delighted. I am almost afraid to cook in it for fear of splashing over words that remind me how much I am loved.

A black apron is spread out on a carpt with various affirmations written in silver ink. There is a picture of a cow with the word "vegan" and a heart; "nurturer"; "abundant generosity"; "open... a heart wide open" with a drawing of a heart; "WWE champions pretty" with a picture of a face with long hair; "me and Adrian rock around in the car boom yeah"; "sweetness"; "wholeness"; "silly Quaker"; "ardent hospitality"; "conscientious industrious"; a picture of a shooting star; "home"

(They also gave me measuring cups, for “how much you add to the house.”)

It was a little overwhelming to be at the center of attention, even briefly, as people went around naming the gifts they saw in me. But it was also an experience I will hold with me to take out and look at again on dark nights when I need it most.

The others each got their turn, guests going around in a circle to tell their favorite stories and celebrate their past years with us. It is so easy to forget how far we come in just a year, sometimes, and it was beautiful to see the reminders of how much they have impacted the community.

Vegan chocolate cupcakes culminated the evening, of course.

Three humans, a Black woman, a white genderqueer (Adrian, the author of this blog), and a white woman, stand smiling at the camera. Adrian has zir arms around the other two standing by either side.

Photo credit: Katie Archibald-Woodward

I am so grateful for the way L’Arche celebrates – wholly, in abundance, and in deep appreciation for each person in this community. I hope that I can carry this spirit of celebration wherever I go.

I have rediscovered the secret love-language of god.

It turns out to have been my heartbeat all along!

It speaks through my joy.

And my secret is,

I can find joy anywhere.

Whether I am scrubbing toilets, pulling weeds, filling paperwork, stirring pots, watching rain…

There is no work too small, or menial, or dirty,

that cannot be a labor of love.

So, god, that trickster,

changed languages on me without telling me!

(Or probably, told me, and I wasn’t listening.)

Well, I hear you now!

Through all the people I have met this weekend.

Through all the questions that are being asked.

Through all the songs and the silences.

Through all the hands held and whispers shared.

Through all the rain and the dirt and the snails and the roses.

Through all the journeys I see being started, continued, discovered;

their roads spiral out on patterns I cannot see.

Yet somehow we are all walking alongside each other, separately and together.

The road ahead is covered in future fog,

but we know who we are walking with.

We know who we are following.

The shot is angled close to sandy ground. Several small green plants grow immediately in front, then scatter in the sand further out to crest on a grey sky.

Some snippets from daily L’Arche life that leap above, around, and within the mundane.

Monday: One of my friends from Florida comes to visit. Someone in the room says, “Oh, you’re Adrian’s friend,” and someone else says, “oh, the only friend Adrian’s ever brought!” Within half an hour she earns the moniker of “only friend.” We have a huge meal with many other visitors and much laughter. Several days later I am still being asked about my “only friend.”

Wednesday: One of our core members complains about his ankle, so we engage in foot soaking that turns into a pedicure, complete with callus removal, nail clipping and nice cream. Our community leader invites us over for dinner and presents one of our core members with freshly cooked octopus – because this core member had put on our community leader’s evaluation, “needs to serve more octopus.” Afterwards, we go for a photo shoot in downtown Decatur and later get ice cream, and generally enjoy each other’s company. The sunset is stunning.

The sun sets behind low buildings and a sidewalk. On the left rises a taller building and a few budding trees. The sky is orange fading to blue and purple, and two airplane trails make a gold "x" in the sky.


Thursday: I partake in a traditional footwashing at L’Arche. We read a passage from the Bible where Jesus washes his apostles’ feet, and then we each take a turn having our feet washed and washing someone else’s feet. We give them each a special blessing as we do so.

Friday: I begin planning for Easter dinner, and do afternoon pickups at everyone’s workplace. As it is Good Friday, we have a simple meal of rice and beans. And, somehow, our prayer time after dinner turns into a musical. I recreate it as best I can in the dialogue below.

P (core member): “You all have to sing your prayers!”

JH (core member): *plays guitar*

Others: “1, 2, 3… hit it!”

Me: *sings* “These are the things I’m grateful for. The food I eat, the friends I keep, the bed I sleep…”

M (assistant): *sings* “I pray for JH, and P, and T… I’m grateful for guitar playing, and for good food…”

L (guest): *sings* “This makes me so nervous…”

All: *laughter*

L: “…trying to keep this candle alive…” *candle nearly drowns in wax*

JS (assistant): *rescues the candle and gets a new one*

T (core member): *silence as JH plays guitar* *passes the candle on*

Others: “P, 1, 2, 3… hit it!”

P (core member): *sings* “I’m grateful for my aunt, my uncle and my family… I pray for my brothers and my sisters…” *closes with an almighty* “Lord have mercy!”

All: *sung* “Lord have mercy”

JS: *sings* “I’m grateful for a beautiful day… for everything in every way…”

JH: *sings* “Thank you prayer… I pray for my family and friends… God in your love!”

All: *sung* “Hear our prayer”

*we proceed to sing “Amazing Grace” and “This is the day” before signing off*

At the end of February, our QVS house had a mid-year retreat at Koinonia Farm, outside of Americus, GA. It’s an intentional Christian community with a remarkable history nestled in the middle of pecan orchards and cotton fields. My first impression was of quiet and calm – away from the main highway, surrounded by blue sky and modest farm buildings, pecan trees stretching off in neat rows to the distance.

A tan building on the right has a sign over its door saying "Coffee House." Blue sky and open fields stretch away on the left.

The coffee house of Koinonia


Adrian, a white human with a half-shaved head, looks off to the right while chickens gather around a feeder in the background in a pecan orchard.

Checkin’ out the chickens

We greeted the various animals and cats roaming the farm, and went to lunch with the community.

Adrian, a white human with a half-shaved head, and CJ, a tan-skinned man with short curly black hair, bend to pet a black cat and a grey cat on a farm path.

Greeting the farm cats

We learned the history of the farm that afternoon. Koinonia was one of the first interracial communities in Georgia that paid its Black and white farm hands equally, and had all eat at the same table together, back in the 1940s and 50s. Their dedication to equality in accordance with their Christian faith earned them the ire of the KKK and other white supremacist groups nearby, and they met firebombing, gunfire, and other attacks with stoic nonviolence and the start of a mail-order business imploring customers to “help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.” One of the items in their small history museum that caught my eye was a letter from Martin Luther King, Jr, on the menial but necessary subject of recommending insurance companies that would stick with them even through threats of racist assault.

After the civil rights movement, Koinonia ran a housing justice program that became Habitat for Humanity, whose center can be visited in the nearby town. The farm briefly tried to become a full business rather than an intentional community in the 90s, but quickly found themselves in debt and returned to their communal roots, opening up their community to a wide variety of ministries: running retreats, serving hospitality, focusing on food and housing justice in the area, and continuing sustainable farming practices. Their pecans and candies are still a bustling mail-order business, and we were able to tour the bakery where many of their sweets are made.

Adrian, a white human with hair in a cap, stands next to a large copper bowl stand mixer in an industrial kitchen.

An old-fashioned granola maker, still very much in use.

We spent much of the weekend dividing our time between contemplative and spiritual activities, and learning the life of the farm and community. On Saturday we spent the later half of the morning pruning grapevines in the February sun and wind, working in a quiet warm field that felt more like late spring than mid-winter to my Midwestern sensibilities. We explored questions of community and vocation in the Koinonia coffee house under a mural of a wide tree and the words of Clarence Jordan, one of the founders of Koinonia and author of the Cotton Patch Gospels, translations of the Gospels into modern south Georgian dialect.

A tree is painted on the ceiling with the viewer's perspective directly beneath a cross-section of the trunk, and branches and leaves radiating in all directions.A tree mural of branches and leaves spreads across the ceiling, and the boards along the top of the wall have a quote from Clarence Jordan, which reads, "Behold a tree. Does it not speak to us thusly:" The Jordan quote continues on another section of the wall (part 2): "Don't you see that God is not working himself into a frenzy in me?" The Jordan quote continues on another section of the wall (part 2): "I am calmly, quietly, silently pouring forth my life and bringing forth fruit" The Jordan quote continues on another section of the wall (part 4): "Do thou likewise." - Clarence Jordan

At night one could see the sun set behind the pecan trees, and all the stars were visible, free from the city light pollution.

A sunset sihouettes bare trees and fields; the sky shines orange at the horizon fading to dark blue above.

I valued the chance to dive deep into the south Georgia countryside, learn the models of intentional community, and spend time with my housemates. While we are still adapting to each other’s styles of approaching life and ways of being, I believe our time together will bear fruit.

Trees silhouetted against a sunset are reflected in a large puddle.

The term “accompaniment” has a very specific meaning within L’Arche. Every single person in the organization has someone who is an “accompanier,” from the executive directors on up to assistants and core members. An accompanier is someone who walks alongside the person working and living in L’Arche, sharing their journey, offering an ear, advice, companionship. Because being with L’Arche can be a very intense experience, especially for those living it, accompaniers provide a perspective with a little more distance from the day-to-day happenings of the home, but with needed support and listening. Accompaniment is one of the many ways that L’Arche strives to make its entire community and organization supportive for all who are a part of it.

Because of the structure of QVS, I already had a built-in accompanier in the form of my spiritual nurturer that the program paired me with when I first started. But if I did not, L’Arche would have given me someone. And I, in turn, am an accompanier for one of the core members in our house.

My accompanier and I meet once a month, to talk, to listen, to be quiet together to let the Spirit in. Our conversations are deeply personal and deeply renewing. This month, we went to Medlock Park, where we were able to wander through the woods on and off the path, taking advantage of a pleasant sunny February day to find the remains of an old water treatment area, which has since been a much-loved spot for artists.

A long wall, broken at the top, seen through brush. It is covered with paintings of eyes and abstract color swirls.

An old water holding tank is covered with graffiti. An image painted on blue background shows two monster heads, one with a long tongue sticking out towards the other, and the caption, "Boy, ever since I first saw you I knew you were the one for me."An old wall is covered with graffiti. Portions of words can be seen, some abstract; a cat's face; the sentence "let's keep this a place for art."

When I accompany a core member at L’Arche, it means many things. Some of it means noticing when something specific to that person needs doing: personal grooming, room cleaning. Sometimes it’s advocacy. Sometimes it’s going along to medical appointments. Sometimes it’s taking on bigger projects that help a core member achieve their dreams, like making signs to advertise yard work services. Sometimes it’s spending one-on-one time getting milkshakes and talking about life.

And it goes both ways, as I’ve discovered.

One of my more delightful experiences with accompaniment was when the core member I accompany asked to go with me to my upcoming ear appointment. I had spent some time going with them to their medical appointments, so it seemed fitting that they would come with me to mine. I borrowed a car and drove us both up to the facility. My appointment was sorely needed; when you wear hearing aids as often as I need to, ear infections are an unhappy side effect. We oogled car ads in the waiting room magazines and sat together in the doctor’s office while my ears were cleaned. The core member watched it all carefully, asked questions about everything, and seemed delighted to see me restored to full hearing. We went and got smoothies afterward, and the day was an outing of delight. I don’t normally hold that much anticipation for medical appointments, but being with them made me feel safe, and even have a great deal of fun.

To be together turned this rather ordinary experience into a deeper one. We ministered each other in our different sicknesses as we walked alongside each other to doctor’s appointments. It was a very real reminder that to be an accompanier is not simply looking out for someone; it is also allowing oneself to be looked after, to engage in supporting each other in the ways we are fitted to. It means allowing a space for vulnerability, to see each other in a place of need. It means a trust that lets one in to a sacred role of mutual support. And we both derive real comfort in each other’s presence.

I am grateful that L’Arche gives us a space to let these relationships and this trust grow.

Several daffodils open facing the viewer in a small patch alongside a tree.

February daffodils heralding springtime in the Southland.

It’s been two months since my last, and I apologize for radio silence. A lot has happened since then.

Our house is smaller than it was. Of the six members of our original Atlanta QVS crew, two have left the program. This is not unusual for any given year of QVS as a whole, but it is a bit unusual to lose two people from the same house. I am feeling the loss of their perspectives, energy and gifts in the house. But it has also brought the remaining four of us closer together.

A professor who taught me (Eastern Studies; I read the Tale of Genji with him) when I was at Shimer passed away a few weeks ago. I felt closer to him than I knew and have mourned his passing. I am very grateful for the time I spent with him over the past few years, doing alumni book discussions and taking his wheelchair out for spins and dining at his favorite Vietnamese cafe. But I bitterly regret not seeing him when I was in Chicago for the holidays.

I understand he was very ready for his passing. I am glad that this was so. I wonder how ready I will be.

L’Arche continues to delight and challenge me. Even in routines there is so much variety in each day, and I spent a lot of it on my feet. I enjoy this in a way I never expected. I spent the New Year’s with them, and we have big plans for growth in this coming year. We have had potential fourth core members visiting the house, and I am excited to see what may work out.

I have been able to plug into the organizing for the Showing Up for Racial Justice organization in Atlanta, as well as spend time with the Quakers for Racial Equality group that is part of Atlanta Friends Meeting. These opportunities have been life-giving and fulfilling for me. Next week I’ll be part of a discussion group talking about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. I feel much of my college career has prepared me for this.

I have been grateful to be introduced by my partner to the online worship group that happens as part of the Ben Lomond Quaker Center in California. Whenever I have been part of regular, daily worship, this has been a strengthening joy for me. I am hopeful to pick up some of the slack I’ve let on parts of my own spiritual life. I started reading a few things that quickly chastised me for my own lack of practice. Getting back to regular worship and meditation will be far better self-care than some other things I’ve tried.

These are all quick, quiet glimpses of the past couple of months. I have several other things I plan to write about more in-depth, such as accompaniment at L’Arche, and the best video game I’ve played in a while.

A tree sports white magnolia blossoms on thin limbs, with a backdrop of white houses and blue sky.

Southland in the coming springtime

A photograph of the author Richard Wright

Richard Wright

“…for white America to understand the significance of the problem of the Negro will take a bigger and tougher America than any we have yet known. I feel that America’s past is too shallow, her national character too superficially optimistic, her very morality too suffused with color hate for her to accomplish so vast and complex a task.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy (American Hunger), 1944

I finished reading Wright’s autobiography on the day that Black Lives Matter activists and supporters gathered under the hashtags of #BlackLoveFriday and #NotOneDime to shut down one of Chicago’s biggest shopping stretches on retailers’ biggest holiday of the year. Though it was clear to me that not every shopper got the point of the protest, I was incredibly glad to see the connections being drawn between the way the US economy is run and US oppression of people of color.

In the context of the portion I have quoted above, Wright is reflecting on the white women he worked with at a cafe in Chicago. He found himself unable to bridge the gap between his life experiences and their concerns in their own lives. He continues:

“I know that not race alone, not color alone, but the daily values that give meaning to life stood between me and those white girls with whom I worked. Their constant outward-looking, their mania for radios, cars, and a thousand other trinkets made them dream and fix their eyes upon the trash of life, made it impossible for them to learn a language which could have taught them to speak of what was in their or others’ hearts. The words of their souls were the syllables of popular songs.”

His words brought into stark relief the confusion of the shoppers denied entrance to their stores: yes, we agree with your aims, but why are you blocking our sovereign right to spend money? How does police violence connect to stopping Black Friday sales?

Yes, it’s about disruption of “life as usual,” but it’s also more than that. It’s a call to realign moral values. It’s a plea to cease constant bargain-looking, running on the hamster wheel of consumerism that makes things cheaper and cheaper so that they are more readily replaced, trapping poor people in a vicious cycle of spending more money overall to stay afloat and wealthy people in a cycle of constant keeping up with the Joneses. Constant fear for our own jobs and money and savings keep us immobile in the face of state violence, prop up anti-immigrant and refugee hysteria, lead us to support constant war on black and brown bodies at home and abroad.

In another article I read recently, Arundhati Roy writes about her conversation with Edward Snowden and Dan Ellsberg, concluding: “We’re told, often enough, that as a species we are poised on the edge of the abyss. It’s possible that our puffed-up, prideful intelligence has outstripped our instinct for survival and the road back to safety has already been washed away. In which case there’s nothing much to be done. If there is something to be done, then one thing is for sure: those who created the problem will not be the ones who come up with a solution. Encrypting our emails will help, but not very much. Recalibrating our understanding of what love means, what happiness means – and, yes, what countries mean – might. Recalibrating our priorities might.”

If we’re more concerned about our ability to participate in consumerism than we are with the deaths of human beings at the hands of a force that is supposedly designed to protect them, our priorities aren’t straight. I’m afraid that one of the reasons working against racism is so difficult is that, as Wright attests to in his works, racist attitudes and behaviors of white folks are just a part of what the US is built on. Our current economic system is incompatible with an anti-racist agenda–it has nothing in it designed to care about such issues of justice. Wright predicts:

“If, within the confines of its present culture, the nation ever seeks to purge itself of its color hate, it will find itself at war with itself, convulsed by a spasm of emotional and moral confusion. If the nation ever finds itself examining its real relation to the Negro, it will find itself doing infinitely more than that; for the anti-Negro attitude of whites represents but a tiny part–though a symbolically significant one–of the moral attitude of the nation. Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.” (bold emphasis mine)

To change, we’d have to admit that our economy is built on slavery and genocide. We’d have to admit that the lifestyles we so idolize in this country are not attainable by all – and never have been. We’d have to admit that our concept of our own success means others not, or never, succeeding.

But I think this is the direction that Wright pushes us. He concludes at the end of Black Boy that “in all the sprawling immensity of our mighty continent the least-known factor of living was the human heart, the least-sought goal of being was a way to live a human life. Perhaps, I thought, out of my tortured feelings I could fling a spark into this darkness. […] I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.”

I cannot possibly claim to understand the forces that moved Wright, from my position as a white person in this country today. But the call I see him making to all of us is the same expressed by those protesters on the Mag Mile: we invite you to recognize the lives out here, being stolen, dying. We invite you to recognize the hollowness of constant shopping, obsession with things and prices. We invite you into a deeper relationship of being human, if you are willing to step outside the quick-and-fast comfort of spending money, of thinking you can control your environment if you make enough cash, if you buy the right things, if you live in the right neighborhood.

It means work, and tears, and uncertainty, but it also means answering a deeper hunger, to community and love and being together. It means trading fear of difference for struggle into love.

The connections I am writing about here are not new. I am indebted to the ideas of courageous writers & thinkers today, like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brittney Cooper and Michelle Alexander and Mia McKenzie; of others before them, like Audre Lorde and James Baldwin and bell hooks and Sojourner Truth. I do not wish to claim credit for ideas; I wish to spread them further in vision for a different world.

I draw these ideas out because I think Wright is right; if we persist within our current economic framework, the current path that this society has set out for us (go forth and make money, be fruitful and multiply dollars, buy to save the country from terrorists), we cannot come face to face with racism in this country. We cannot come face to face with the thousand shallow values that make up American consumerism because to do so would be to bite the hand that feeds us (even REI’s campaign to shut down its stores and extort people to go outside and enjoy nature is a sales ploy; come and enjoy these rocks in the sun, we have the perfect shorts for you to do so; we sell happiness in the form of khaki trousers).

I say this to acknowledge the difficulties inherent in the road before us; I also say this because I think we can do it. I am surrounded by people, in this house at QVS and in my work at L’Arche, who work with visions for a different world. I am encouraged by all the wonderful work that my friends in far-flung parts of the world are doing to make this world more livable for everyone.

One of the reasons I came to QVS eager to live in a community was to see how we could possibly set up something that might run counter to these systems. I am excited to continue to explore this with all the people in my life.

And I say this because I want to have a conversation with you. I want to understand what you hunger for and what holds you back. I want to know the things you long to talk about, but can’t. I think we can live together in this world, that there will be enough for all of us. I will share some of this vision in subsequent posts, reflecting on some things that L’Arche has introduced me to: the Rules of Cooperation.

Recently I’ve been working with folks at L’Arche to introduce the idea of my being non-binary to them. A conversation went something like this:

“Hey, I’d like to tell you something important to me. Something I like my friends to call me. You know how, when you talk about this person, you say, ‘she did this’? Or when you talk about this person, you say, ‘he did this’? Well, when you talk about me, I’d like you to say, ‘they did this.’ I like to be called they.”

That was about the extent of it. A few days later my supervisor caught this interaction while I was in another room:

While chatting about Chicago with a visitor, my supervisor mentioned, “Adrian is from Chicago!”

The visitor said, “Oh, the new girl?”

The core member with whom I’d spoken jumped in and said to the visitor, “Actually, Adrian is not a girl.” And then the core member spelled it out, “They are a T-H-E-Y.”

Sometimes it really is that simple.

Fully open red blooming rose.
Trees, both green and brown-leaved, frame a blue sky with a few clouds.

The first blue sky in weeks.

I have been thinking a great deal about boundaries.

It’s a subject that came up during my very first week at L’Arche. My supervisor and I were talking about ways in which L’Arche and I would grow together in life-giving ways, and what kind of boundaries I would need to make that happen.

I didn’t really know how to answer the question then, because setting boundaries – knowing the limits on my time and energy, understanding my own needs and emotions independently of others – has never been a strong point for me. But through my time and interaction with both of my communities here, I am slowly beginning to learn. This is difficult to write, as much of this I am still working through.

Here is what one of our workshop leaders, Nan, had to say about boundaries (it was a bit off-hand from our conversation about non-violent communication, but could have opened up a whole day’s worth of talk in and of itself):

  1. You must believe you deserve boundaries and have them respected.
  2. Don’t use them to punish.
  3. Get clarity.
  4. How someone responds to your boundaries is about them.

I’ve had a hard time with the first idea. Boundaries, to me, communicated a kind of disconnect, stopping myself from empathy; or worse, being selfish. They meant not being the best friend you could be. They meant not giving it absolutely all you had and then some.

But it’s become gradually clearer to me over the years that in order to even have something to give, I had to save some things for myself.

This is not something that rests easily with my own awareness of how much I have already been given. It’s still a conflict over how much of myself I should give and use (because I have more than others), but when other people made me aware that my taking an evening to myself made me more effective the next day in whatever I was doing, I started to take notice.

In my work with some of the core members of L’Arche, they have given me the gift of challenging my boundaries. Whether it’s the time I put into conversation, the things I offer to do, or the actions I react to, working with them has forced me to be clearer about what I do and don’t like. I can’t expect some of my subtle cues to be read – I have to be blunt about it. “Don’t call me that.” “I have to go now.” “You’re being rude.” And instead of pushing people away, as I feared, it has only improved our communication. They, too, can be clear about their boundaries, and I can trust we are being honest with each other. “Adrian, can we please talk?” “Am I being respectful to you?” “Thank you for listening to me, Adrian.” Once boundaries are in place, we can have conversations that we both want to have – and we both learn about each other. I have begun to see where compassion intersects with placing boundaries.

Because setting boundaries can be a kind of compassionate act, in any area of my life. I believe that I should continue to push lines of communication, to put myself out there meeting another person, to really try to learn their language and understand their perspective. (I am convinced that close interpersonal relationships are what change minds and hearts.) But when it comes to someone immovable, when interaction conflicts with my limits – I can walk away. I can say, “I will continue to be your friend, but I can’t talk to you until you stop doing this.” Compassion is never out of the equation for anytime I am with someone, but it takes different forms. To care for someone, to work with someone against my own limits, energy or self-interest does neither of us any good. I deny the other person the truth of my feelings and abilities, and I deny myself the care I need to continue.

This also increases my ease with others’ boundaries; to understand and respect their own limits. To know they’re not blowing me off, but that they are taking care of themselves. And it increases my confidence in the durability of relationships, to see them remain (and flourish) even after our limits are clear.

I am grateful for the many gifts my time at L’Arche is giving me, and in so many surprising ways. I look forward to see what transformations the future holds.

A large pond on a rainy day, surrounded by trees and shrubs.

Pond in Eastlake Commons community.

This past weekend marked a period for me to pause and reflect. It was a weekend gifted us by QVS and Atlanta Friends Meeting (AFM): a space for retreat in a cabin owned by the meeting, far up in the mountains of northern Georgia. Resting among trees both reddening and evergreen, the cabin opened up a space for all six of us to be together without much outside distraction (internet was nil, and cell signal was iffy), as we head towards the close of this year.

A lake edged by autumn trees, covered by clouds, part of which create a small rainbow in the middle.

Lake Rabun, seen from the dock of the cabin.

Prior to departing, we had been treated to a session on Storytelling with a very gifted member of AFM, Jonah McDonald. He worked with us on the elements of oral storytelling; what made a narrative; how one tells a story; considering the audience; understanding what story is right for the storyteller to tell. Particularly special was spending four minutes paired up to tell a story based on one of several prompts; to quickly choose a story to tell from one’s own life brought up experiences particularly close to the heart, and showed me where mine lay.

One of his comments in discussion of how storytelling would play a part in our year was to note that it would be difficult to tell the story of our year while we’re still in it. This hit upon some of my own difficulties with writing here, for I feel I do not yet have a clear narrative of what I have been experiencing, nor can I see where my particular arc ends. And I may yet vehemently disagree with myself on what a particular scene or event means for me, during and after the experience.

A wide lake under a cloudy sky, edged with trees and docks. On the far side of the lake clouds hang over mountains, and the tip of a canoe is visible in the lower right corner.

Morning on the lake.

I think, perhaps, this is also an injunction to let go of my own desires for how a particular story may end.

This weekend was helpful for me to re-invest in my community. I have been getting so much out of L’Arche, and the people there, that it was easier for me to sink my energy there. But being given the space this weekend reminded me of the connections I made when we first journeyed together, and that I am now eager to continue forging into something stronger. We told stories. We picked apples. We played games. We rowed across the lake.

I loved the still silence on the water under a clouded night, and seeing little difference between the water I glided over and the sky above. In the morning, mist blocked the mountains from my view, and danced low over the lake.

I do not yet know the end form (if there is such a thing) of the QVS community I am a part of. I do not yet know who I will be next summer with L’Arche. All I know is – change is happening, and I cannot see what will spring from the autumn leaves that are now blanketing the ground. The seeds are hidden from me, til the earth swings back and days grow again.

A tall row of trees turning fall colors lines a lake shore, with a dock visible to the left.

Dock of Ferguson cabin.