Meeting the odd one

by
02 November 2006

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 laugh.

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 community members.

Advertisement

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 you.

Prayer

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.

Bible passages

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.

For meditation

"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 CT Bookshop

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.