The Boston North Road Warriors

niagra falls shot

August 2016, Blaine Kuss, L’Arche Assistant —

Three Core Members and four assistants, including myself, recently had the opportunity to visit the L’Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hills, Ontario, which has the distinction of being the first L’Arche community outside of France. On the trip were the three gentlemen core members from Assisi House—Donald, Jim, and Phil—as well as Michael, Tom, Fernando, and me. Our journey began is months ago as a combination of Don and Philip’s desire to visit their friend Sister Elizabeth Buckley, (L’Arche Boston North’s founding community leader 1986) coupled with Jim’s desire to see his friends Steve and Trish. Michael wasted little time in getting to work getting the necessary approvals from L’Arche Boston North, getting in contact with L’Arche Daybreak, and making sure each Core Member had his passport ready to go.

The drive up began on a dreary Tuesday morning in late June. The seven of us all piled into a van, put on my driving playlist, and began the nine-hour trek to Daybreak. Sixteen hours later—seven more than planned—we arrived, exhausted, at our destination. This journey was too big and important to be told about in one blog, so instead it will be in a few installments. Though related in that they are from the same trip, I take different and unique meaning from each of these “mini-blogs.” Without further ado:

The Lion heart

As any seasoned traveler knows, road trips rarely follow the travelers’ original blueprint. A blown tire, traffic jam, weather emergency, or other time-crunching event is almost inevitable when driving across state lines. Driving across country borders, the seven Boston North Road Warriors neglected to plan for forgotten peanut butter, moderate traffic, unplanned bathroom trips, and the presence of Niagara Falls in between Boston and Toronto.

Forgotten peanut butter means time spent stopping for lunch instead of making PBJs on the road as planned. Plus one hour. Moderate traffic adds another hour. Unplanned bathroom trips add another hour easily. Making the trek to Niagara means another two hours at least. Where did the rest of that time go? I have no clue, other than it came and went while we were on the highway.

During our trip to Niagara Falls, Donald proved himself to not only be a courageous and sympathetic man, but a resourceful one as well. After journeying out of our way to see the Canadian side of the Falls, six members of our party were excited to visit the viewing deck of the Horseshoe Falls part of Niagara. So, while five of the seven of us went out of the shopping center to the outdoor observatory, I stayed behind, holding Donald’s hand safely behind glass doors. Donald cited a desire to remain dry behind his need to remain under a roof; he saw the mist coming off of the Falls (which carry enough water every minute to fill one million bathtubs) and didn’t like it. Though I felt for my friend, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous of our travel companions, all of who were marveling at the raw power of gravity. Donald, sensing my dismay, apologized with a solemn, “I’m sorry, Tuna Fish (his nickname for me),” to accompany his understanding pat on my arm. “Yeah, me too,” I responded.

At this, Donald pulled his sweatshirt over his head in such a way that he could still see out the front. “Let’s go,” said the little hunchback beside me. With that, we plunged out into the mist to join our fellow Road Warriors. During a conversation about W.E.B. du Bois on Krista Tippets podcast “On Being,” author and thinker Maya Angelou states that, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” By overcoming his fear of the misty falls for the sake of his friends, Donald proves this to be true.

Hearts of Gold

three amigosWe arrived at the Daybreak community at eleven o’clock at night, and I was ready for bed. Jim, however, gleefully leapt out of the van and walked briskly into the guesthouse—that’s right, L’Arche Daybreak has an entire house just for guests to the community. Jim was excited to be reunited with his good friend Steve. The two have known each other for years, and though I’m not sure how they met, I know a reunion between two old friends. They embraced as brothers might and launched immediately into a conversation about the nicest bedroom in the house—a room to which Jim quickly laid claim. Only after getting settled in did Jim inquire as to the whereabouts of Steve’s wife, Trish.

All of this excitement transpired before any of the rest of the Road Warriors or I had a chance to go inside, such was Jim’s elation to see his friend. After making weary introductions and making tentative plans to meet up with Steve the next morning to have lunch with Elizabeth Buckley, everyone went to bed.

A word about Elizabeth Buckley: She is a L’Arche rock star. Having been around L’Arche virtually since its inception in France, Elizabeth also spent time with L’Arche in England before founding the L’Arche Inverness community in Scotland, also founding L’Arche Boston North (then called L’Arche Irenicon) before eventually settling at Daybreak. To say that she is important to L ’Arche’s history is an understatement, and overstating her vitality to L ‘Arche’s mission to serve as a sign and model of how to help the poor is nigh impossible. Of course, she is very good friends with both Donald and Philip, and I got to see just how deeply their relationship runs when she stepped out of an elevator to greet them.

In addition to being L’Arche royalty, Sister Elizabeth Buckley also has an astonishingly kind face. Despite being well into her 80s, she exudes an air of youth and energy. Her smile jumped off of her body at the joy of seeing Phil standing before her, and she eagerly stepped into his warm embrace. After Donald shyly handed her the flowers he had picked out at the store that morning, Sister Elizabeth graciously thanked him and made a remark about how bald his head was.

During our pizza luncheon—at which Steve, Trish, and a couple of other assistants from Daybreak joined us—Sister Buckley fondly recalled memories and stories of when Donald and Philip were young men not much older than I am now. As she, Steve, and Trish swapped stories about how eagerly Phil changed holiday decorations—he still does—and how hard Donald worked at Burger King—he no longer busses tables—alongside tales of Jim’s infatuation with professional wrestling—he and I watched WrestleMania together a few months ago—I saw in action how deeply people care for core members. More specifically, I witnessed how profoundly core members of L’Arche Boston North change lives, and how special people and relationships should be.

People at the Heart of Community

“This is Kyla,” the ceramics supervisor said. “She is making a mug.” “A mug!” I exclaimed to Kyla. “I used one of those just this morning!” Kyla smiled and laughed at my silly comment. Sister Elizabeth was gracious enough to give the seven Road Warriors a tour of Daybreak’s facilities, and I only have one word: WOW.

Dave was one of the first core members we met. He is the founding core member of the Daybreak community in the 1970s and looks to be in the same age bracket as Donald and Philip. We met in the building for core members who have made the choice to retire. However, people in recliners watching television didn’t occupy the main room. Rather, the room’s occupants all sat around a table with tablets in front of them, chatting away as they interacted with technology. Dave jumped up (as quickly as one can with a walker) as we entered the room to greet us with questions about who we were and how our vacation was going. Dave even remembered Donald and Philip from the last time they visited!

IMG_4877Justin in the woodshop is all about lunch. That when I spoke with him was food-centric could be because we saw him around mid-day, but he was very into talking about his sandwiches. In the woodworking building, the supervisors proudly told the Road Warriors about the building’s safety features, how many of the machines could not be operated by just one person, and about how the cedar-wood kayaks were made upstairs, and about how they often had to work with buyers to make requests such that they could be met. The woodshop was filled with all manner of electric saws, lumber, and other equipment, all neatly organized against walls. “Every person has a job,” the supervisors said. Justin’s seemed to be preparing for lunch.

The craft building was where I met Kyla in the ceramics room. In addition to a ceramics room, the craft building also houses a room where core members make their own paper, and a candle-making room. Core members work not only to make mugs, but also dishes, scented candles, and hand-made wedding invitations. The building also has a break room, where many core members were eating lunch. Caroline approached Fernando and me and engaged us in a conversation about on what she was working that day and our vacation. On the wall hung a schedule with everyone’s respective room assignments each day of the week. Friday was Canada Day, so that holiday was clearly marked on the calendar as well. Hung on the walls throughout the craft building are paintings done by core members, many of which are quite lovely!

The entire complex is staggeringly impressive. Every core member feels valued because every core member has a job he or she knows is important and valuable. The staff with whom we spoke are largely volunteers, equally cool. Ultimately, the intentionality with which Daybreak is composed brought tears to my eyes.

Heart of the City

Touring Boston, one might hear primarily English and Spanish. However, as we drove into downtown Toronto listening to Mandarin Chinese on the radio, I quickly realized that we weren’t in the Commonwealth anymore.  Six of us—Jimmy stayed behind to hang out with Steve—had the opportunity to visit Toronto. On the street, we passed a number of who appeared to be Buddhist monks, and as we walked towards the CN Tower, one could clearly hear no fewer than five languages. As English mixed together with Mandarin, Spanish, French, Hindi, Pakistani, and any number of African languages, I was taken aback by the sounds of Toronto.

One sound tourists don’t always hear when visiting Toronto is the nervous sound of uneasiness. Fernando, the ultimate athlete and “manly man” of the Road Warriors, clung close to the elevator walls. “If you see me sweating,” he joked, “just hand me the squeegee.” CN Tower, the massive communication and observation tower in the city. As the elevator into which we crammed ascended at 15 miles per hour, we were afforded a gorgeous view of downtown Toronto. As Donald picked clean his carefully prepared ziti until his lunch was just cooked noodles, the restaurant at the top of the tower slowly rotated 360 degrees, allowing diners to look down upon the city and also Lake Ontario.

Among Donald, Philip, and Jimmy’s goals for the trip to Canada was the acquisition of new hats and T-shirts. A visit to a tourism hub in a major city presented the perfect opportunity! After scouring the CN Tower’s gift shop, the guys found just the right clothing to commemorate the trip.

I’ll Go Too

Our final evening at Daybreak, one of the Community homes honored the Road Warriors with a cookout. Of course there was lots of praying, singing, laughter, and conversation with our new friends. However, a man named Michael (not the Road Warrior Mike) stayed with me long after the cartwheels were done and Steven’s strains of “Let It Go” had faded into the night. Michael is bound to a wheelchair and does not speak. Several times during the meal, though, Michael let out a strained, breathy cry somewhere between joy and anguish. The man accompanying Michael—whose name, interestingly enough, is also Mike—said in a serious tone, “I’ve been with him for almost two years, and I don’t know what that means.” When Sister Elizabeth raised concern over the sound, accompanier Mike said that he reckoned that the cry probably has something to do with Core Member Mike’s food intake, as the cry is always accompanied by “tummy rumbles.” The Michaels leave for vacation in a couple of weeks.

Doesn’t that interaction encapsulate what a place like L’Arche means? The accompanier did not make any assumptions about what the core member was thinking or experiencing beyond noticing when the sound tends to take place. At the same time, the accompanier did not seem at all disinterested or removed from what he didn’t understand. Rather, core member Michael’s sounds are an ongoing area of interest for accompanier Mike. Accompanier Mike has the wisdom that he does not have to completely comprehend what is going on to be present to support his fellow community member.

“Don’t go alone, I’ll walk with you / I’ll go too,” read the lyrics to Carrie Newcomer’s 2002 song “I’ll Go Too.” These lyrics and this song perfectly summarize Daybreak’s promise to its core members. Not a promise to resolve whatever problems core members might face, nor the guarantee that all obstacles can be overcome. Rather, Daybreak promises that core members will never, ever, have to face life alone.

God bless L’Arche, and God bless Daybreak.