Linda opened a door I had closed for some time.
She had lived in an institution for most of her life before coming to live at L’Arche, an international federation of communities that seek to create relationships of mutuality between people with intellectual disabilities and those who come to live with them. Jean Vanier began L’Arche in 1964 with two men, Raphaël and Philippe, in a small community outside Paris named Trosly-Breuil.
I came to live in the L’Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ont. in 1992. Daybreak began in the fall of 1969 and was North America’s first L’Arche community. After graduating from university, I was searching for something different to do with my life. L’Arche’s model of community, which focused on belonging, growth, compassion and the contribution of diverse gifts from people, appealed to me. It was there that I met Linda.
Less than five feet tall with a smile that could light up a room, Linda had a gift for welcoming people and helping them feel at home. She was direct. She saw another person with the eyes of her heart and had no hesitation in letting them know what she saw. I arrived at Daybreak as an assistant and lived in a home with her and five other people. The first time I met Linda, she looked at me and said, “You look tired. Go to bed.” She was right. She often recognized hidden truths in someone before that person knew them.
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Linda was also very strong. She knew what she wanted and how she felt. I like to have things my way at times. One of these times, Linda and I clashed. I don’t remember the nature of the argument, but we yelled at each other. She went to her room and slammed the door. I went down to the basement TV room and slammed mine.
While watching TV, I took some pleasure in being resentful. The door was closed. I knew I was right. She was the one who could not see things my way. I sat there, enjoying my bitterness.
Then came a knock on the door. Without opening it, Linda said, “Keith, it’s Linda. Can I come in?” I agreed. She came into the room, stood by the door and continued, “Keith, I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Asking for her forgiveness was the last thing I had in mind at that moment. Why should I apologize? And yet, it was the very thing Linda knew she needed to do. She knew that things would not be made right between us until we came together and said sorry.
Linda opened a door into the ways of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not easy. It takes time and a great deal of practice. I still have a long way to go, but thanks to her, I am able to walk through the door more often. The door which leads each one of us home.
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