Last night, in the midst of celebrating her 8-year anniversary with L’Arche, Cassandra* was asked, “What are the gifts you have discovered about yourself since coming to L’Arche?”

With a slight smile, she replied, “The gift of doing things differently.”

Needless to say, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

The gift of doing things differently. Not the burden or the curse, but the gift.

Having lived with Cassandra for 2 years (and known her for nearly 4 years), I can tell you a few of the things that she does ‘differently’ from the rest of the world.

Each day, Cassandra spends time just sitting. She simply observes. No TV, no book. She watches the life around her. If you try to engage her during this time, she’ll probably pull you down so you can sit beside her. You’ll probably get wrapped up in it too…because sitting and looking around with her turns out to be a rare pleasure.

Cassandra looks out of windows and doors, because she’s always hoping to go out. If you come through the door while she’s standing nearby, she’ll take your arm, pull you close and ask, “You wanna go out? You wanna go up the street?”
She’s always eager to see what there is to see. (She’s always eager for chocolate cake, too, but that’s another story.)

Cassandra “draws pictures and writes sentences” daily. Sometimes the sentences are on sad or violent themes. At other times, they are punctuated by smiling faces. Once, when I asked how her day was, she replied, “It was successful.” What did a successful day entail? “Writing some words, talking to people. Singing.”

Cassandra was the first person with intellectual disabilities I met when I came to L’Arche. I walked through the door and she was sitting on the couch, looking around. I said hello and asked if I could sit beside her. She agreed. We sat in a comfortable silence. After a while, she took my hand. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, meeting someone this way…and yet of course I realized how very ‘different’ her approach was.

I’ve never forgotten that gift, the way she offered her quiet presence to me. I was a stranger, coming for an interview, and she welcomed me in.

So, in honor of 8 years of Cassandra (and 8 posts here!), I challenge you: embrace the gift of doing things differently.

If you feel unsure as to what form that could take, I’d recommend looking around, seeing what there is to see. After that, head up the street, talk to people, write some words. Sing what there is to sing.

*Names have been changed.

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