Daily Thoughts from Jean Vanier - 2/13/09

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Out for a Pop

I pick Mike up and as soon as he has, with some help, buckled his seat belt, he reaches to put on some music. He knows how to put in a CD or tape. A few minutes later at the local cafe I shuffle Mike’s walker off into a corner and Mike and I settle into a booth. As we drink our soda pop, we speak about common friends and his family. Mike is in his 50s now and aging because of various medical conditions. Sometimes he is quite shaky, and he speaks slowly, stammering a bit but always knowing what he wants to say and getting it out if people are patient.

We’ve known each other for nearly 30 years but these days we don’t very often have this kind of one-on-one time together. I catch up a little with what’s been happening in Mike’s world—his plan to visit his parents next weekend, his concern about his mother’s difficulty with stairs, his own difficulty with stairs—"I go d-down the stairs on my bum!" he exclaims. I noted he had a new picture of himself and Elizabeth, an assistant who left recently, along with the pictures of other special friends he has mounted on the seat of his walker—a seat he is not steady enough to sit on, so it serves well as a portable photo gallery. Unsure myself, but not really expecting he would know, I ask him about Elizabeth: to which country had she gone- Mexico? Brazil? "Brazil," he informs me with certainty. It occurs to me momentarily that the fact that I can find Brazil on a map and that he almost certainly cannot makes no difference at all ultimately. Then he pulls out a wallet picture holder of early photos: Mike and his mom when he was still in school, Mike with a family friend—“Joanne,” he tells me, an early photo of Mike in his mom’s cream- coloured convertible—a car he loved, his dad as a young man in World War II Air Force uniform. Mike has his dad’s RCAF hat and he digresses to inform me it’s on the shelf in his bedroom. There’s a holy card too, in one of the wallet windows. It doesn’t look anything like the other pictures but as Mike pages past it he mentions, "That’s Jesus," in the same casual tone he identifies the people in the other pictures.

I reflect later on how Mike’s focus on the people in his life grounds me. It’s good to be with him. He’s not thinking about the financial crisis or worrying about the big issues of social or environmental concern or about whether his email system is working. His concern is with what is fundamentally most important to us all—the people we love, and the simple pleasures we can enjoy.

A Long-term L’Arche Assistant


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