Sunday, July 12, 2015
Book #28: Becoming Human
Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, an international network of communities for people with intellectual disabilities.
He is also a provocative spiritual thinker. One of my favorite kinds, actually.
In his writing, he explores what disconnects us from who we are and how we can find true freedom, both personally and in society, through meaningful connection with people we tend to marginalize or are marginalized from.
Yesterday, I met with an inmate at the jail who was particularly uncomfortable with the idea of asking for help. "I've always been able to pull it together on my own," he said apologetically. "But now I'm not sure what I'm going to do. That's why I messaged you."
As we talked, he mentioned that he was hoping maybe he could live with his 90-something grandmother, that it could be a mutually beneficial arrangement because he could see to her needs and keep her company and he'd have a home that would meet the requirements of his probation.
I silently hoped that if he did end up there, it truly would be mutually beneficial. It's the kind of thing that could go horribly wrong in any number of ways.
Then suddenly it occurred to me to tell him about this book. I happened to have it with me and decided to risk it. When I showed it to him and described what it was about, he was immediately enthused and asked me to write down the name of the author and the title so he could get hold of it after he was released.
"I know I should have more important priorities than reading," he confessed.
"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure!" I laughed, pleased to discover I was hanging out with another reader. Honestly, Jean Vanier's ideas have the capacity to fundamentally transform the way he engages with life as he moves forward, and he genuinely seemed to sense that as we talked.
The system I work within at the jail can pretty much be summed up with two words: order and expedience. It's a system that can easily disconnect people, both inmates and employees, from our humanity. Talking about a book I happened to be reading at the time isn't exactly in my official job description.
But I am willing to bet the short moment we spent doing that was worth far more than the more part of the time we spent talking about "practical" things. Even if he never reads the book.
Because in that moment we connected as fellow humans, neither at the margins, both at the center.
"Everything that is human needs nourishment: the body, the mind, the memory, the imagination, and, particularly, the heart. They must be nourished by encounters with other hearts that can lead us into other gardens of life, into a new and deeper vulnerability, and into a new understanding of the universe, of God, of history, and of the beauty and depth of each and every human being."