"Real peace implies something deeper than polite acceptance of those who are different. It means meeting those who are different, appreciating them and their culture, and creating bonds of friendship with them." - Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche
“Sawah, Sawah. I need help.”
“I’ll be there in a minute, Charlotte.” I brushed mascara over my lashes, while catching a glimpse of a pink morning sun peeking through the evergreens outside my window. Mascara was all I seemed to have time for since moving to Cape Breton nearly two years ago.
I turned to check on Charlotte perched on the edge of my bed. After a quick swipe with my toothbrush and a swish of mouthwash, I joined her in the bedroom.
“Well, Charlotte. What seems to be the trouble?”
“Need help Sawah.” A sympathetic pout distorted her round red cheeks. I could see frustration building. Her tennis shoes lay on the floor in a heap. Her hair had not been brushed and her pants were not zipped or buttoned.
I sat down next to her, taking her hand in mine. I then cupped her chin, and tilted it upward. “Charlotte, I’m here to help you, but just remember you can help yourself too. I’ve seen you tie your shoes and brush your hair. I know you can do it.”
Her dark eyes stared back. There was defiance, stubbornness there, melded with the normal lack of comprehension. A challenging combination. Charlotte had only been in the community for two weeks, but she was beginning to feel more at home. Despite her stubbornness, we were beginning to develop a bond. I was encouraged.
“Could you please pick up your shoes? You don’t want to miss breakfast again, do you? I think we’re having pancakes.”
She rose from the bed and stomped her size 6 foot on the floor. “Oh, Sawah.”
It was all I could do to contain the bubbling laughter that was struggling to emerge from my heart. Charlotte didn’t like to miss meals, especially when we had pancakes with fresh berries.
She reached for her pant’s fly, pulling the zipper up and then struggled with the button, finally triumphant. A wide smile burst across her face just like a sunrise across the Atlantic. I clapped, reveling in her excitement.
“Okay, Charlotte, now you need to sit down on the bed and put your shoes on. I’ll brush your hair. You want to look pretty today, don’t you?”
Charlotte nodded agreement and plopped onto the bed. Twice she reached down to retrieve her tennis shoes, while I crouched behind her on the bed waiting for the right opportunity to brush her dark brown hair.
It wasn’t long before we had conquered the hair and shoes and Charlotte was eager to tackle pancakes as well. “Ready to go, Sawah? I’m ‘ungry.”
I smiled. “Charlotte, you know our morning routine. We pray together before breakfast. Right?” I reached out for her hand and she moved closer to the bed so we could kneel together.
“Dearest Lord. Charlotte and I come to you this day in friendship, seeking to find You in everything we do and everyone we meet. We give you this special day and ask that you teach us to be good servants today. Especially bless Charlotte today as she starts her new job at the used clothing store. Go with her . . .” A sweaty hand squeezed mine and began pulling my shoulder.
“Sawah. Sawah. I get to work today? Today?”
“Yes, Charlotte. Mrs. Hampton and I both think you are ready. I’m going with you today to help you learn your new job. We’re both so proud of you.”
And there it was again, the sunrise spreading across the Atlantic in the form of a beautiful 37-year-old woman named Charlotte who simply needed someone to love her.
L’Arche Cape Breton (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) is an ecumenical, Christian community founded in 1983 under the umbrella of L’Arche Canada® which seeks to come alongside and live simply with developmentally disabled and marginalized people to offer them purpose, community, and work-based initiatives in a residential setting. (www.larche.ca)
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