A couple of years ago I had breakfast with Jean Vanier, the French Canadian founder of the L’Arche movement. L’Arche is an international network of communities made up of people with disabilities and those who come to share life with them. Jean Vanier has spent the last 40 years living in such communities. I asked him, “What’s the hardest part?” I was expecting he’d say “Sometimes I get fed up of being with developmentally disabled people and I just long for a normal life,” or something like that. But what he said was this. “Sam, if you really want to know, the hardest part is when young people come from college and they stay with us for a summer, or maybe for a year. And they say ‘This has been the most amazing experience of my life – I’ve learnt to see the world so differently and value things so truly and ponder things so deeply.’ And they have this word they like to use… ‘transformative,’ that’s it. They say it’s been transformative. And then they leave. And I think, ‘If it’s all been so fantastic and transformative, why are you leaving?’” And I said to this great man, maybe the greatest man I’ve ever met, “Ah, but don’t you see, if life is fundamentally the accumulation of experiences, you have to leave, otherwise you’d have to rethink your whole life.” “Oh,” he said. “So people leave, because they’re frightened of who they’re becoming if they stay.
30 August 2011