Jean Vanier is the founder of the worldwide community called L’Arche (The Ark), in which people with disabilities and their carers live side-by-side.
It was in 1964 that Vanier, a philosopher, discovered, “a world that I didn’t know anything about … I visited psychiatric hospitals, I visited other institutions, and then I discovered that people with disabilities were amongst the people who are the most oppressed in our world.”
He says what happened next was “very simple.”
“I got a house and I took two people from this institution and we just started living together. Of course there were all the, what I’d call the legal things that I had to go through … But it just began because I just felt that people with disabilities were being cruelly treated and not listened to, not seen as having a gift to give to society, and the weak were just being crushed.”
Vanier says people with disabilities are the teachers of those without disabilities, and the following quotation takes up the theme, pointing out how people with disabilities render him the great service of revealing himself to himself. In what way is this a great service? Because it is the path to peace and freedom. Without it, there is no freedom.
“Disabled persons can reveal to me my tenderness. But they can also reveal to me my hardness. They can reveal to me a world of darkness in me and a capacity to hurt that I don’t want to admit and which I don’t want to accept. But the discovery of my wounds, of my own brokenness, is a source of peace if I accept it, because then I do not have to pretend that I am what I am not. I do not need a mask.”
~ Jean Vanier