We can only celebrate a life like that of Jean Vanier. Like a benevolent father figure, he filled our hearts with hope, and made us smile. But actually to be in his gaze, even for an instant ... well, it melted my heart.
I had been providing some music leadership for the local L'Arche communities--Avoca House in Toronto and Day Break in Richmond Hill. It would have been 1974 or 5. So when Jean Vanier was coming to town for a weekend conference I was delighted to be asked to help lead it.
Dozens of idealistic young people crammed into the Aurora Conference Centre when the weekend arrived, but bad wintry weather held up the arrival of our speaker. So the leadership team concocted a Friday evening program in his absence, had a situation meeting afterward, and then turned in. I found a place on the floor, nearest the door, in a program room already crowded with snoring sleeping bags.
Sometime, in the middle of the night, I was awakened when the door by my head opened and light burst in. Six and a half feet above me, backlit by a hallway lightbulb, stood Jean Vanier, trying to find his room. I leapt to my feet, gathering my sleeping bag around me. "You're Jean Vanier," I exclaimed! He looked startled. "Welcome," I said, and put out my hand. We shook, and his face broke into a wide grin.
His welcome, from here on, may not be as spontaneous, nor as silly. But I can only assume it will be as heart-felt. Welcome home, Jean Vanier!