I first read this book as a requirement for a class I took in college, called “Witnesses to Hope, Heart, and Humanity.” The class featured Pope John Paul II (the witness to hope), St. Therese of Lisieux (the witness to heart), and Jean Vanier (the witness to humanity). (If you can’t tell, I went to a Catholic school.) I had previously never heard of Jean Vanier. I was completely unfamiliar with his work and his writing. I took the class because Pope John Paul II and St. Therese are two of my favorite figures in recent Catholicism. I was not expecting to be so deeply moved by Jean Vanier.
But I was.
I have since re-read this book twice, and intend to continue re-reading it the rest of my life. It touches me in a different way each time I read it. There is such wisdom, such understanding, and such beauty contained within these pages.
Jean Vanier is a gentle, compassionate, and loving person who founded the L’Arche communities that can be found in 36 countries, including many in the USA. The mission of these communities is to be a place where individuals with special needs/disabilities can find a home that encourages them to live their lives fully, joyfully, and beautifully. The stories he tells of residents in the communities will touch a special place in your heart as you realize that as humans, we are all so very similar, despite any differences that may initially be perceived.
This book taught me to look at myself and those in my life in a new way, for we all have some part of us that is wounded and in need of special care. Just as the people who live in these communities learn to overcome their challenges and accept the realities of their lives, so must all of us.
I love this book so much that I’m actually finding it difficult to write about it. I’m at a loss for words when compared with the beauty of the words contained in this book. Jean Vanier is sure to touch a place deep in your soul, a place you may not even be aware is there, and will encourage you to respond by loving more fully every person in your life – including yourself.
One thing that strikes me about him is his drive – his need – to understand people and their actions. When someone has an outburst of anger in the L’Arche community he lives in while writing the book, his thoughts are not to punish, or reprimand, or anything of that nature. He seeks to know the reason for the anger, and with that knowledge, to see how he can help prevent it in the future. He chooses to see everyone as good. It is not our actions that make us good or bad, but the nature of our being. And when our being is wounded, our actions can correspond with this hurt and pain. It is out of this that anger and violence can erupt. Jean Vanier desires to find the brokenness and to find a way to heal it, rather than to inflict further pain through shame or embarrassment.
This perspective strikes home for me in a unique way, and I have tried to adopt it as my own perspective in many cases where I am trying to understand some wrongdoing or destructive event that has taken place. We are all in need of healing and hope. Jean Vanier’s realization of this very concept is what draws him to address the need for all of us to see our common bond as people in this world. It is through accepting each other, understanding each other, helping each other, and healing each other that we can truly become human.