L’Arche Assistant Travels to Trosly

L'Arche, Jean Vanier, Ariana Bachman

Jean Vanier and Ariana Bachman, Trosly, December 2016

“I could not stop smiling,” said L’Arche Boston North assistant Ariana Bachman about her week in Trosly, the French village where L’Arche was founded in 1964 and where founder Jean Vanier still lives today.

That hardly seems to qualify as news. As head of Nazorean House and a L’Arche Boston North Assistant for nearly ten years, Ariana smiles often and broadly.

For six days, December 4–9, she was one of twenty-six L’Arche assistants from around the globe engaged in the first half of a two-part formation called “Together in Mission.” The second part will take place in Poland next spring.

The formation was offered for assistants with at least five years in community. Still only in her mid-twenties, Ariana first began coming to community events at age fourteen, when her father was on the board. At seventeen, she was invited to begin assisting Katie, a core member, with her after-dinner activities: shower, dental care, exercise, a bowl of Jello, prayer, and so to bed.

An assistant since age fourteen

Ariana describes that first experience of sharing time as “so awkward. I had no idea what community was. Sometimes when I came in the house around dinner time they were praying, sometimes not. Katie was so new and the assistants were so weird—at least from the perspective of this seventeen-year-old high school student.”

L'Arche Boston North, Ariana Bachman

Katie and Ariana, Haverhill, when both were younger

Ten years later Ariana found herself among a group more wonderful than weird: assistants from thirteen countries, including a Spaniard working in Ireland and a Nepalese working in Germany. The three “coolest” assistants she met were from Palestine, Ukraine, and India. “Many of these communities have to be self-supporting,” she said, “and the assistants get a lot of scorn. People ask them, Why are you hanging out with the crazy people? Why do you associate with them?”

Ariana compared the lack of support for people with disabilities in some countries with the far better situation in Massachusetts. “We are ahead of the game in the disabilities world,” she said.

At the formation week, Ariana was the only assistant from North America. Workshops were half in French, half in English, with translators provided. Among the speakers were the first community psychiatrist and, of course, Jean Vanier.

“He’s eighty-eight,” Ariana said, “and still extremely engaged. He knows what’s going on in community around the world. He asked me about [L’Arche Boston North’s founding leader] Elizabeth Buckley.”

For a moment, Ariana let her competitive side show while being interviewed for this post. She exulted: “I finally met him! And I got a picture! I wanted to show it right away to Vanessa [Henry, community coordinator of L’Arche Boston North]. Vanessa met Jean—but she didn’t get a picture!”

Accepting the good with the bad

Ariana said that a theme of the formation week was shadows of community—“the idea that we have to value both sides of community and be transparent about the things that are imperfect. I’m all about transparency,” Ariana said. “People want to treat L’Arche as an ideal place, but we do things wrong, we fight, we are broken. We have to accept and acknowledge this, not hide it.”

Participants were asked to line up in order of their years in community. Some had over thirty years. “It was amazing,” Ariana said, “to look down the line and see all that knowledge and commitment. I had always been in formations for new assistants, where the question is what L’Arche will be in your life. You’re in a questioning phase. This group was people who knew L’Arche—the good with the bad—and had still chosen to be part of it.”

Ariana said the week in Trosly enhanced her commitment to L’Arche, teaching her not to get worked up about the minutiae of community. “We need to realize,” she said, “that we are part of something so much bigger.”