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Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, an international organization which creates communities for people with developmental disabilities. Mr. Vanier is photographed here during a lunch in one of the community houses. (Michel Setboun/Michel Setboun/Getty Images)
Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, an international organization which creates communities for people with developmental disabilities. Mr. Vanier is photographed here during a lunch in one of the community houses. (Michel Setboun/Michel Setboun/Getty Images)

'There is a beginning and an end to all things' Add to ...

He is no different from anyone else on that score, myself included. I forget that he has a will of his own, that he has the right to follow his own path, however disabled he is. The other day someone asked me if I thought Walker would ever marry. For years I couldn't imagine it, but I can't see a reason to deny him that pleasure now, if there is someone who wants to share his life that way.

But Walker's seizures are different; they have a metaphorical power all their own. An obvious one: Is this what it would be like if he were to die, trembling in our arms? What would we have to show for our lives together? Well, just that: I held him, and he let me, for starters.

He will have been here, there is no doubt of that - smashed this, laughed at that, splashed here and ambled there. Not so much to show, but also everything. We all marked his time, found ourselves as we tried to find him. There are people who will never forget him, and who knows where those unforgotten memories will lead? And if that is true of fragile, broken Walker, it has to be true of the rest of us. I like to think he led the way to that conclusion.

Best of all, he never apologizes for who he is, or what he does-unintentionally, of course, but it is the correct answer. I hope he has no regrets. Do you? What are they? And what do you do with them?

Warm regards,

Ian Brown

From Jean Vanier Ian, my dear Ian, yes. It is sad that this is our last correspondence. There is a beginning and an end to all things. I did love your last letter, filled with humaneness, no pretensions, no great ideal, no illusions, just life.

Life flows on and on. I am here today and tomorrow I will be gone. L'Arche will still be there - how will it evolve? How will Andrew, Lulu, Eric and those I eat with every day in my home be when I am gone? What communication will I have with them?

Barbara, my secretary for 40 years, died two years ago; she knew everything I was and did, and was so wonderfully faithful. She was there 24 hours a day for me, and for all that I was called to do and be. I held her hand as she lay dying, as little by little she faded away, her breath becoming slower, more intermittent, until it finally stopped. She had slipped away behind the veil that separates time from eternity. Rabindranath Tagore says death is not the lamp that goes out, but the coming of dawn.

I had hoped that Barbara might find a way of communicating with me, in dreams or in other ways. There has been only silence. All I can do is trust that she is well and has forgiven me for all those times when I did not sufficiently recognize the incredible gift of herself, to me and to l'Arche.

I am 81 today. Where have all the years gone to? Yet all is inscribed in my flesh and in my fading memory - flesh as it is written in the Gospel of John, when John says the "word became flesh": God became flesh, God became weak and was born in Bethlehem, a tiny baby. Yes, the years have gone by and I am happy today to be as I am with my weakening but still living body.

As I think of my life in l'Arche, I do not feel that I did anything; it seems that all things happened with me but also without me. I had no plan; things just happened. I met people - people who formed my growth, people with disabilities who loved me and awoke my heart.

I met people who revealed to me the face of God, people who awoke as well my angers and anguish and revealed to me a bit more the shadow side. My flesh has been moulded into what it is today, with all its weakness. It is more vulnerable than yesterday.

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