Fred has helped me to be part of the L’Arche Community. When he appears with halting, uneven gait, and cheerful sounds of greeting welling up from deep within him, people respond to him. You can see him securing his space, tuning in to his surroundings and sometimes, into his iPod as well.
It’s generally not long before Fred is ‘into it’, picking up on others’ comments or ideas, especially those which are humorous, with his own words and hearty, throaty laugh which causes much amusement and enlivens all around him.
He often calls out to me “Churchman” (I am an ordained minister) and when I respond with the name I’ve given him, “iPod man”, it always makes him laugh.
When I sometimes feel I can’t be much use to L’Arche, I remember Fred, seeing him happy and excited and full engaged. I think that being linked to Fred as his companion has helped me (and Fred) to realise how rich we are in the things that really matter.
In every one of us there dwells an “inconsolable longing” for that place which is our true home, a place where we are welcomed and loved. L’Arche, I think, is a signpost to that home and a foretaste of it.
Fred and I often go out together on outings around Newcastle. The first thing is to find a real coffee. One of our best outings was to Taronga Zoo, the first visit for Fred. We spent several hours seeing all the animals. His favourites were the monkeys, the tigers and the seals. “When are we going again?” he asks me.
The really big trip we did together was to Brisbane for a L’Arche Retreat. Flying was a totally new experience for Fred and he was, naturally, a little apprehensive. But as his companion on the journey, I was able to reassure him, and on entering the aircraft cabin; he needed no urging to ask the pilot if he could see the cockpit. The captain obliged so Fred was right at home. During the four days in Brisbane Fred made many friends who appreciated his contribution. Caring for Fred’s personal needs at the Retreat was a privilege and he made the most of it, especially having me put on his shoes and socks for him.
The “Remembering, Celebrating and Dreaming” Program was rewarding for us both. I put together a book of photos and script over many hours on the net and presented it to him at his celebration with Hunter Friends of L’Arche. He had a good laugh when he saw the photos of sausages and beetroot on the back cover of the book - his favourite food. Fred called this night, “My night with Jesus.”