As I was trying to decide which of my L’Arche friends to focus on for today’s post, I realized:  I didn’t want to choose just one. Instead, I wanted to bring you the words of wisdom that each of them has shared with me over the years.

And, while I don’t want to give the impression that L’Arche is a field of daisies wherein the members spout words of wisdom at every turn…I have been blessed to learn from some very wise individuals.

Some of the wisest people I know. Don’t let the balloon hats fool you.

So, without further ado…

1. Real happiness doesn’t fall from the sky; it’s earned.

One day, I overheard a L’Arche assistant ask Alvin*, “How is it that you’re so happy and so positive?”Alvin has a naturally sunny disposition, but he also struggles with recurrent health issues.

After a moment of consideration, Alvin smiled and said, “Well, I work at it. Being happy…it’s hard. It’s every day.”

2. There IS a secret to lifelong love.

Three years ago, when I was driving Leo to a doctor’s appointment, we got into a conversation about our nation’s Presidents and First Ladies. Leo has an encyclopedic memory, and he told me about which marriages had lasted and which hadn’t. I asked Leo, “Leo, what do you think is the secret to staying married? What makes a marriage last?”

Leo is someone who has been studying relationships since day one. He’s watched many couples fall in love. He’s been to innumerable weddings (including my own). This is also a man who has beat the odds; in his own words, “When I was three, I couldn’t walk for a while. My mother taught me to walk again because she wanted me to be able to do as much for myself as possible.”

Leo, on the secret to lasting love:  “I think you have to be very patient with each other.”

3. We define our own success.

Once, when I asked Cassandra how her day was, she paused for consideration and said, “It was…successful.”

The candor and contentment in her voice took me by surprise. At the time, I couldn’t imagine making the same statement, for fear of sounding too proud. Yet there was no arrogance in Cassandra’s voice. There was simply a straightforward statement of sufficiency and fact.

Of course, I asked her, “What did you do today?” She replied, calmly and confidently, that she’d done some art, wrote some sentences, and talked to people. She made time to make it happen…it being her very own version of success.

4. Stating your desires can help them come to fruition.

When I think of initiative, I think of my friend Theresa. One day, weeks before my wedding, she approached me and hugged me. Apropos of nothing, she said with a smile:  “Guess what? I’m comin’ to your weddin’!”

There was no time to think. She wasn’t on the initial guest list. (We had a very small wedding.) But I had an epiphany. “Of course you are!” I said. And that was that.

She was right. She was coming, because I couldn’t help but see the love and enthusiasm she’d bring to our day. I couldn’t help but agree with her belief that she should be there. And not only was she present, she opened the ceremony in prayer.

5. Real love is not limited by time, space or even death.

When I look at a portrait of my friend Gene, I remember what his life and death have taught me:  that someone who has died can stay alive in the hearts of those who loved them; that they can keep giving gifts long after they’ve gone. Their love can keep trail-blazing for you, preparing you for whatever’s next.

6. Pay attention to what flutters in winter.

In the first post I ever published, I wrote about how, one morning, my friend Miguel taught me a valuable lesson. As we were getting ready for work one day day, Miguel wasn’t moving as quickly as I would have liked. At first, I was frustrated. But then I saw:  he was gazing with wonder at two sparrows that had flown into the holly-bush just outside his window.

I followed his line of sight, and for once I didn’t try to turn his attention back to the task at hand. For once, I paused and considered twirling…the twirling of tiny wings, the dance of birds in the bush. Light streamed in, and I felt like even though the world in all its misery and unfulfilled hope was rushing by, the same as ever…we were different, Miguel and I. We took pause. We saw life flutter in winter.

7. Your presence is the most valuable thing you have to offer.

Every time I walk through the doors of the L’Arche Ontario house and see my friend Pedro, I re-learn this lesson. No matter what else is going on in his life, he’s almost always glad to see me. He always wants to tell me what’s going on in his life; to ask about my family; to be my friend. I hope you are fortunate enough to have a Pedro in your life—someone who is happy to see you not because of what you do, but because of who you are.

(I also appreciate how Pedro always takes my side in arguments. Whenever my husband Jonathan and I are bantering back and forth, he’ll say something like:  “Jonathan! You be good to that woman! She is your wife.”)

8. Great writing is all about speaking out.

As Leo said, when I asked him how he determined his favorite books, “When a book speaks out to you, you know it’s good.”

9. Tending the body can tend the soul, and the sacred is present everywhere.

My friend Gene taught me this as he allowed me to care for him. I remember a strange feeling of deja-vu coming over me during a worship service wherein I was asked to wash his feet. Cleaning Gene’s feet was a part of my routine at L’Arche; assistants would wipe his toes and apply creams and powders each day.

During that foot-washing ceremony, as I touched the feet I knew so well, I felt the sacred and the ordinary collide. And I realized that there is no separation; that the ordinary things we do out of love for one another are sacred.

10. Security and sandwiches are a powerful combination.

When I asked my friend William what he liked best about his life at L’Arche, he said, “It’s a home for life. And we go out for lunch.”


What life lesson would you pass along? Tell me in the comments!

*All names have been changed.

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  1. Katie Power September 27, 2011 at 1:29 PM - Reply

    Love, love, love this blog! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

  2. sheila allee September 27, 2011 at 4:39 PM - Reply

    This is so beautiful, Caroline. I can’t help but think of my uncle, who could hardly talk. But he didn’t really need to. Just being in his presence gave me peace and restoration. Thank you for honoring the wise people you know from L’Arche.

    • Caroline McGraw September 27, 2011 at 5:26 PM - Reply

      Well said, Sheila ~ peace & restoration, indeed. Thank you for sharing, & for the continued support!

  3. Warren September 28, 2011 at 6:37 PM - Reply

    I can really connect with #4: “Guess what? I’m comin’ to your weddin’!”. I too have been transformed by my friendships with people in L’Arche. I value the enthusiasm, transparency and spontaneity of these friendships. “When are we going out for coffee?” I hear almost daily in L’Arche – that’s a good question – an invitation to keep my friendships alive! Thanks for sharing your posts, and stories touching and funny.

    • Caroline McGraw September 28, 2011 at 9:52 PM - Reply

      Thank you for sharing, Warren! We are, indeed, transformed by the invitations we hear and accept. 🙂

  4. Tara September 29, 2011 at 12:42 PM - Reply

    Although all of these lessons are wonderful, Cassandra’s defining success really hit home with me. She’s absolutely right!
    Life lessons are everywhere but the one that seems to be front and center for me is that guilt, shame and fear are the “mosquitoes” of emotions — not helpful to anyone except, perhaps, as nourishment for bottom feeders. I’m putting on my repellent. 🙂

    • Caroline McGraw September 29, 2011 at 8:46 PM - Reply

      Wow, I know what you mean, Tara; Cassandra’s definition of success strikes me as both very simple and very profound. (& I like the mosquito analogy!) 🙂

  5. Edwin Mah September 29, 2011 at 2:42 PM - Reply

    These are really great life lessons because there’s so much truth in them, and they made me think of how important it is to embrace vulnerability in life. I often think that it’s only after we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and face whatever may frighten us (e.g., rejection, embarrassment, disappointment) that we can receive some things that are good in life: the acceptance and company of a friend, a wedding, or even something as simple as figuring out when we need to say, “I’m sorry.”

    Thanks for the post, Caroline.

    • Caroline McGraw September 29, 2011 at 8:47 PM - Reply

      Thank you Edwin; I appreciate how you make the connection between vulnerability and joy; it seems we can’t really have one without the other, try as we might!
      Thank you again for your comment!

  6. Allison October 11, 2011 at 1:58 PM - Reply

    I love this post so much, and agree with each and every life lesson!

    • Caroline McGraw October 11, 2011 at 6:45 PM - Reply

      🙂 Thank you ~ I really appreciate your comments today! JP must have given you 5 minutes to yourself, huh? 😉

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