The View From The Couch

April 2017– Blaine Kuss, L’Arche Assistant“ — In the past fifty years, Indiana has produced three good things: Larry Bird, The Jackson Five, and this birthday person with an affinity for Kendrick Lamar, microbiologists, and #larcheliving.” This was the clue associated with my name this evening in community’s monthly Birthday Jeopardy game. The clue tells several important things about my life, including my musical tastes—and corresponding political views. This clue tells about my preference in partners—the woman with whom I am in a committed relationship is currently a PhD candidate at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/MIT joint program. Finally, this wonderful clue tells what I am all about: Advocacy, and affirmation.

I love my job. In twenty months, this community has afforded me opportunities for domestic and international travel, provided a wealth of important learning living alongside people with disabilities, and introduced me to countless friends I cherish and always will. Community also provides an important fantasy sports outlet.

“I want go you, Tuna Fish,” my bald brother Donald told me upon coming home yesterday. “Where are we going, my man?” I asked, imagining Donald wanted to go out for a drink. “Your grandma,” is all that Donald said in reply. “Nah, man,” I responded. “This trip is just going to be me.”

My grandma—Eleanor Kuss, AKA Grandmother—joined her husband George—Granddaddy—in Heaven on Sunday. Now Donald has never met Grandmother, and yet here he was asking to go with me to her graveside. After talking with him further, that Donald did not just want to “go on a trip” was apparent. The man knows this really sucks for me, and that I could use a friend. I don’t have the words right now to express how much Don’s innocent offer means to me. Though my friend won’t be standing beside me on Saturday in Memphis, he will be with me in spirit. Same goes for my partner the PhD candidate, who also offered to come with me to recognize Grandmother’s life.

I have been intentionally picky about whom I have told—within Community—about Grandmother’s passing. Apart from my housemates, I’ve only shared this devastating news with select people to this point. This is because I didn’t want the purity of tonight’s birthday festivities disrupted. In an attempt to explain, allow me to explain how the last Thursday of each month works. Whoever has a birthday during said month (mine is Saturday) sits on a single couch on one side of the room, with the rest of community in a circle around the “birthday couch.” After a Birthday Jeopardy card gets pulled off of a cardboard chart, those gathered are provided with a clue about a person on the Birthday Couch. Then comes my favorite part: The affirmations.

After “guessing” the birthday individual (clues are always obvious), community has the chance to affirm a birthday person. Interestingly, for a community that shares a lot of love, is based on love, gives love freely, and thrives on love, birthday celebrations provide an opportunity for love, excitement, and appreciation to be shared directly and immediately. I tend to think this is because birthdays are—unlike trips, house life, and other experiences—universal to everyone in community. Both Core Members and assistants alike know and experience the excitement of having a birthday. This evening, I gave a hug, was told “happy birthday,” and swing danced. I had my sense of humor praised, was told I am wise, was given a wedge of Jarlsberg cheese, and was told I seek out and try to understand diversity and adversity. In addition to providing a huge ego boost, this evening provided a much-needed injection of unfiltered positivity and energy into my life right now.

Affirmation- time relates to my life right now because what this evening provided was unfiltered through another universal experience: Death. It was not full of “I feel bad for you” or “you’re so strong.” I wasn’t looking for sympathy this evening, or to have my life outside of Community take over a significant Community event. While Grandmother’s passing is a devastating happening in my life, this evening wasn’t about that; it was about unfettered joy and amazing love. Grandmother was all about that.

When Dad called me on Sunday about Grandmother, after assuring I was safe, he asked me what I remembered right then about her. I responded that I connected most on Sunday afternoon with Grandmother’s “Goody!” Now I was referring at the time to exactly how Grandmother said the word—always with a twinkle in her eye, usually rubbing her hands together, always full of infectious excitement about whatever was happening at the time. Dad responded in an unexpected way. He said, “Yeah, I guess Mom always did get excited about being excited.” Dad took my statement in a much more general—but no less accurate—way than I intended it. Grandmother always looked for a reason to be excited. Her excitement was pure and unbridled.

This evening wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about my problems, my sadness. Of course I brought Grandmother with me. By playing Grandmother’s death close to the chest to this point, I honored her legacy. That legacy of celebrating alongside others based on universal experience with joy unfettered. I got to experience the view from the Birthday Couch, and that view was good. This evening was, and Grandmother’s existence is, all about affirmation and #larcheliving.