L'Arche Heartland

P.O. Box 40493
Overland Park, KS 66204

Email: heartland@larcheks.org

Office: 913-341-2265

Fax: 913-648-4143

Academy & Green Express: 913-742-8527

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I would like the following correspondence:

"I don't understand how the universe was created, and I can't explain the spirit or presence of Jean Vanier. But maybe a story will have some meaning. I met Jean in the mid-1980's and had the good fortune to have several conversations with him over the years since then. One special meeting stands out. He had come to Kansas City, as I recall, for a Faith and Light retreat. Our deaf and developmentally disabled daughter Jennifer was in her teens and was beginning to show intermittent signs of anger outbursts, which we didn't understand then but later recognized was psychosis. She didn't have the language to describe her inner experience and only occasionally acted out, which occurred without warning, and that made it difficult to understand why. 

 I had the opportunity to meet privately with Jean in his room at the conference site and took Jennifer to meet him, too. Jennifer was calm...at first...and seemed interested in Jean and he in her. He offered her a bowl of ice cream and scooped some out for her. She loves ice cream. She ate a bite, then suddenly and violently threw the bowl on the floor, smashing it into pieces and sending ice cream everywhere. She raged as I attempted to restrain her. Jean seemed unconcerned. He began picking up shards of glass and wiping up ice cream as I apologized and apologized. I didn't recall that he tried to reassure me, and he didn't ask why she threw the ice cream. He very simply and patiently waited for the storm to pass, and I explained that this problem had been occurring without warning. We talked for a while longer, and he seemed entirely unbothered about what had happened. I asked him if he had any ideas about her, but he did not or did not share them. 

 In following years when I saw Jean at various L'Arche meetings, he asked about Jennifer, and we had conversations about other things, too. Someone told me Jean asked about me at a conference I couldn’t attend. This might seem unremarkable until one recognizes that Jean encountered an uncountable number of people in his life (though maybe my daughter was the only person ever to throw ice cream at him!) But the symbolism of a spiritual leader cleaning up at the feet of a wounded person did not escape me then or now. How is it, why is it that such a person walked on Earth and in our time. And what can we learn from him now in his passing."

- George Harris, Board Member