Andrew Procter reflects on misjudgements about people, after his month’s
stay in a L’Arche community in France
ONE DAY at the table, there was this odd person. She was short, stout, and
pasty white in complexion. I approached her to shake hands, only to receive
much voluble French, which I took to mean "Back off." It did mean just that, I
later learned, but not because she didn’t like me. Rather, she had some
illness, which made it better to avoid human touch.
I bracketed her at the time, I’m afraid, as one of the needy, insecure types
whom the foyer took as guests from time to time, over and above the routine of
caring for those with learning difficulties. Then a few days went by, and our
regular guardian needed to be away, and who should come to replace her but
Anne-Marie, as I discovered her to be called.
Apparently, she had recovered from her mysterious illness. She greeted all
with double kisses on both cheeks, and joined in the pétanque immediately and
with aplomb. She turned out to have a great gift of humour. She adopted a
ludicrous posture on one leg for her turns to throw, which broke up the rather
severe atmosphere Phillipe was creating by his determination to win.
She proved to have a great way with Yves, one of the most distant and
mysterious of the community members. Yves always seemed so sad and worried. He
turned out for work like a dapper businessman, neat and tidy. He spoke in a
breathy, deep voice, which seemed to come from another world. You had the sense
that he lived in a way that only loosely connected with ours. I rarely saw him
Anne-Marie would fix him with her eye, and emit a weird kind of animal call
to him, full of fun; and his head, often bent, would lift, and he would laugh.
He had the most open of laughs, it emerged, childlike in its vulnerability. His
solemn face would split and his gappy teeth would show in a grin of complicity
with her. She told me later that he was very worried about getting his things
packed properly for the coming holidays. How she knew this beat me, for Yves
scarcely spoke, but she had a deep understanding of him and of the other
Anne-Marie was a great teller of jokes. Her version of the wide-mouthed frog
was delightful. I thought again how free of spirit she seemed, and generous in
her self-giving to all in the group. I discovered she had been at the community
for some 14 years. Far from being the perhaps inadequate person I had first
thought, she was one of the mainstays of the place.
She was at that time fixing up everybody’s summer holidays. She made no show
of it, but it sounded a delicate, detailed job, requiring due regard to the
different levels of disability among community members. I realised again how
far wide of the mark my first impressions had been.
Thought for the day
Think of someone you know whom you initially misjudged — someone who has
turned out very different from your first impression. Has this change been for
better or for worse? If, as with me and Anne-Marie, it has been for the better,
take a little time to give thanks for that person: for their richness, for your
debt to them. Think how you might have lost all that wealth if you had avoided
them because of your first impression.
If it turned out for the worse, perhaps it is important not to lose whatever
was the first attraction. It is probably still valid. And perhaps resolve, if
you are still in contact with them, to understand what has made them disappoint
O Lord, forgive us for judging so. Slotting people into categories,
measuring them by our small standards, jumping to conclusions. Please help us
to take our time with people, to expect the best, to encourage, to remember you
have blessed all your children with great inner resources, and that we all bear
the mark of Jesus somewhere. Amen.
John 1.43-50: Nathaniel almost misses out by jumping to conclusions from his
first information about Jesus. In response, Jesus overcomes any initial
hostility, and Nathaniel becomes a disciple.
Mark 8.22-26: The blind man’s first vision is incomplete, Jesus takes him
through a second stage, and his sight becomes whole.
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7.1).
This is an edited extract from A Month Among the Vines: Daily
devotions based on time shared with a L’Arche community in France
by Andrew Procter (Redemptorist, £7.95; (CT Bookshop £7.20); 0-85231-309-8.
To place an order for this book, contact