Awake My Soul

I had a teacher in high school that told us that to find a soul mate we would have to develop a soul. I never really put much thought into what that really meant but somehow it has stuck with me. The six weeks I spent in the L’Arche Bologna community have ignited something within me. A yearning to pass along the love and joy I have experienced.

This experience has changed my life. I see things differently and I see a change within myself. I am back in the States and still need time to reflect about what this experience means, but I know already how it has made an incredible difference in my thoughts and hopefully my actions.

With tears rushing down my face I left a place that will forever be a home. I am sad but I am also satisfied. I am at peace with my time there, with all the challenges and frustrations, with all the lessons I have learned and that I will continue to learn for the rest of my life. I am still in awe of the lessons in love and the overwhelming joy I have in my heart.

In the past 8 weeks I have had mass in the Tomb of Saint Peter, attended a Papal Audience, been to the Pope’s Sunday Angelus, backpacked through Rome, Siena, Assisi, Venice, Ravenna and Bologna. I have lived in the L’Arca Bologna community for six weeks learning about how to offer my insecurities to share in the burdens of another. I have learned about friendship, and what it truly means to love another. I have experienced extreme sadness, but also profound joy. On my last morning I watched the sky lighten while sitting in the train station as I began my journey back home. How lucky I am to have not only a community that is so hard to say goodbye to, but also a country. This country has a special place in my heart. It has a special place in my soul.

I offer extreme gratitude to the Moreau Center for giving me the opportunity to represent our UP community in Bologna and I give sincere appreciation to the L’Arcobaleno community for welcoming me, loving me, and inspiring me. Thank you for taking the time to read about my experiences, I didn’t do it justice but I hope you enjoyed a look inside this beautiful community.

Always,

Kelly Slauson

I Giorni della Lumaca

The snail days. (That actually haven’t been slow at all.)

In our theater group for the past couple weeks we have been acting out scenes as snails. As in shuffling around the room, pretending we have a shell on our backs. I don’t really know who decided to have so many weeks focused on such an odd animal, but nonetheless we act like snails.

These past couple weeks have been absolutely crazy. I mean my whole time here has been a little strange in regards to the schedule, but for the past two weeks things have been totally different. Assistants are on vacation, as well as groups of core members. The whole community has not been together since the middle of July.

So last Thursday afternoon it was time for the theater workshop. We gathered in the big room that we call the salon and we sort of all just looked around at each other. The two assistants who normally plan everything were both gone so we improvised. And what do most people do when all else fails? YOUTUBE. We watched probably ten videos of snails. If I’m being completely honest, if you’ve seen one video of a snail crawling, slithering, oozing–or whatever you want to call it–you’ve seen them all.

We were running out of videos to watch and we still had 10 minutes left in the workshop. I saw at the bottom of one video the movie Turbo. Now I took a chance and I told one assistant to type it in and we watched the movie trailer. It’s an animated film but the trailer was in English so while I was giggling everyone else was silent. Luckily though there was one in Italian too. It was a hit. Everyone loved it.

The trailer is about this snail who is tired of life going by so slow. He wants to really live and be in the fast lane. He somehow gets sucked into the engine of a racecar and gets supercharged with whichever chemical they use to make cars go really fast. (I really should know what it’s called after making my dad watch all of the Fast & Furious movies with me, but of course I can’t remember). Anyways, the snail gets superpowers and becomes Turbo. He can go faster than any snail around and faster than some cars apparently.

The core members enjoyed this so much that we pretended to be fast snails for the rest of the afternoon, fast shuffling all around making ridiculous noises. It has since become a running joke (hah or a shuffling joke for the sake of the pun) between me and one core member. Whenever things are quiet we both just look at each other, put our hands behind our backs and start shuffling around.

The point to all this back story? Friendship is really so simple. It’s about not being afraid to look like a total idiot while being trying to be a snail of all things, and not caring who gives you strange looks when you fall over laughing.

The amount of work I have has quadrupled in the past two weeks and I have been completely overwhelmed, but when something reminds me of the lumaca and all of our craziness, I can’t help but smile. Even without a shared language, we have the snail days and I am so happy for that.

Silence

For the first time in my life I can say that I appreciate the value of silence. Silence, it’s such a profound topic and I have been trying to write this blog post for 2 weeks now, but I wasn’t quite able to put my thoughts into a cohesive entry.

When I finally made it to L’Arche just about a month ago, I was so excited to have someone to talk to. It sounds crazy but when Morgan and I spent the first night in the retreat house we talked for hours because we both had been traveling alone for a couple weeks and we didn’t have anyone to share our experiences with.

Now to be clear, I am a very chatty human. I love talking to people, hearing about their opions and sharing our point of views. 10 days of backpacking through Italy by myself was challenging in many ways but the most difficult was not being able to talk to anyone because of my limited and completely terrible Italian. I found that in the silence though I could reflect and on my journey, the moments that brought me to where I am in that space and time.

I think I am so struck by the moments of silence here because the day consists of a semi-controlled chaos. The perfet word to describe this community is busy. There are always activities and meals being prepared, core members to be with, cleaning to be done. The routine though is basically the same. We prepare dinner, eat, clean, give medicine, pray and then it’s off to bed. This is the foundation for the evening but things don’t always go as planned and by the time we get to prayer the exhaustion has set in for almost everybody.

Now controlled chaos is not new to me. I have been a nanny for an amazing family in Camas for three years now. This family has four kids, ages 8-16. Between after school tutors, music lessons, sports, dinner prep, homework, baths, and everything else, things can get a little crazy sometimes. The mom and I usually divide and conquer and we make an excellent team. There is a routine and that way everything gets done that needs to (well, most of the time).

In the midst of all the business, this community emphasizes the value of prayer, of silence. We have adoration every Monday evening and it is in these times that I feel the most joy. Ultimately, life doesn’t need to be so complicated. We each carry the burden of our own shortcomings and frustrations, but to see all of that put aside to just reflect and to find peace is truly astounding. It amazes me that all of us in this community can put aside everything else, and just be together. By being together we are forming a community of solidarity, we carry the burdens of one another.

One day this week we had five different countries represented at our lunch table. Germany, Ukraine, Italy, Colombia, and the United States. That’s 5 different languages. There was very little conversation because we could not understand each other. The amazing thing though is that our differences didn’t matter. We are all here because we love the L’Arche community and if that isn’t amazing, I don’t know what is.

The friendships I have made here are not based on conversations about mutual love of a football team or favorite movies. The friendships are as simple as having my hand held by a core member who does not like change or new people while we sit on the couch together. My friendships are as simple as a kiss on the cheek because they are truly excited that I am here.

For the first time in my life, I do not feel that there is emptiness in silence. I do not feel I am alone. I honestly believe that silence is one of the most beautiful parts of life. I can look around the room during prayer and feel the most intense love I have ever experienced, without the words ever being said.

I have debated for two weeks whether or not I was going to share this photo but I think that the UP community deserves to see this beautiful moment. This moment happened without words being exchanged between the two core members in the photo. I was sitting next to them pulled out my phone and just snapped the photo without ever looking at it. I forgot about it and did not look at it for probably 4 days. When I saw it though, it brought tears to my eyes. Without any words expressed, these two core members showed their love for each other. Because isn’t that what love is, knowing what another needs without any words being spoken? I strive to live in this example of love.

Take the time to put away your phone, turn off the radio, to be alone with yourself, to develop your own spirituality. Just be with the person you love because they are worth your time, your respect. And most importantly, let yourself be loved because despite what you may believe, you are absolutely worth it.

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What a Week

I would be lying if I said I was sad that this week is coming to an end. The past 7 days have been dramatic to say the least. This week has been filled with a trip to the ER, heartbreak, and tragedy. There have been many smiles in the past week but there have also been lots of tears.

My heart is broken for Morgan and her family. She had to leave in the middle of the night to get home for a family emergency. I don’t know how a family can recover after such a tragedy but I pray that they will heal and that they feel the love of their community.

My immune system decided to have a meltdown last week in a response to 52 mosquito bites and different pollens in this environment. After 4 hours in the ER I returned to concerned assistants and core members. I was exhausted but to see such care and concern in people after only being here is absolutely incredible.

A few days later I had a conversation with the volunteer coordinator (and translator) about how I was doing. They were concerned about my health and I told them that this sort of thing is pretty normal for me, that my body rebels sometimes. I explained that I was still fatigued but happy to be here and continuing on with the tasks I have been assigned. I explained that I was embarrassed about having to be driven to the hospital and to make people go out of their way to make sure I was alright.

They explained to me that to share our deepest insecurities and troubles with another is to enter into a sort of intimacy with them. They explained to me that L’Arche is about sharing in each other’s weaknesses. It’s about getting rid of the shame that is associated with imperfections. They welcomed me because of my crazy body and told me that I don’t have to smile and pretend everything is okay if it isn’t, that I won’t be inconveniencing anybody if I ask for help. It doesn’t matter that sometimes I feel like I’m living in the body of an 80 year old, what matters is that I bring those experiences to the table and share them with this community I am now a part of.

When Morgan left I was sad for her. I was sad that she did not get to continue this journey in the L’Arche community just when we got everything figured out. I am heartbroken today in hearing the news of the death of her niece. I was not myself today and the core members could tell. A few of them asked if I was sad and I told them yes and I have received countless hugs and smiles. And in the past few days, the number of times they have asked about Morgan and her family is truly heartwarming. This is a community that has welcomed us, embraced us, and is loving us. We remember Morgan and her family each morning and night in prayer and I ask all of you reading this to please do the same.

So yes, I am happy that this week has come to an end, even though I am one week closer to leaving a place that I can call home. One core member was leaving today for vacation and she won’t be back until after I leave. We gave each other at least 15 hugs and if this is how it feels to say goodbye to someone I’ve only known for 2 weeks, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when I leave in less than a month. I have never experienced more love through tears and smiles than I have in the past 7 days and I am filled with joy amidst the sadness.

Early departure

Due to a family emergency I left much earlier than expected. Although my time was short I learned so much about people. Their love for others was inspiring.

Please keep my family in your thoughts and prayers as we are experiencing a tragic event that is very difficult for all of us. I am thankful that I was able to make it home so quickly and that everything worked out well in order to get me home.

My thoughts for the week

From one core member, I’ve been given many pinches on my hands, arms and legs that hurt pretty bad, my hair pulled, my arm grabbed, a slap on my face, giggles, hand holding, forms of a hug, a few kisses, and many smiles. I have learned that he is a very loving person when he wants to be. He likes to so his own thing most of the time, but sometimes he just wants affection from people. This has showed me to give patience to everybody. No matter what they have done to you. It will prove to be worth the end result.

What I absolutely love is dancing/hug with one of the core members here. He comes up to me and gives me a hug, and then does a small dance. Every time I see him it lights up my day a little bit. It makes me feel like he trusts me, and that is his way of showing that. It makes me feel good about the work I am doing even though I’m very far away from my actual home, I don’t feel like I am. I feel loved and cared for, not to mention very well fed. I have only been here in this community for about a week and I feel as if I am loved and accepted, and that I have been here much longer.

During theater group I was supposed to be a statue and the group was supposed to be observing me like I was in a museum. That resulted in touching of my face and right towards the end an attempt at a kiss on my lips. But I broke character and moved out if the way. I didn’t think that would be appropriate to allow to happen but all of the supervisors of the group didn’t say anything or tell her that was inappropriate so maybe it was.

This week some of us went to the park in the morning. We got to the park and we were having a good time. I noticed two girls who were in their 20′s starring at some the core members, I was off with another core member walking around. It wasn’t just a stare if awe. It was a stare like we didn’t belong there. We had a good time regardless of their prejudices.

At lunch I was helping serve. One of the core members asked me to cut her pasta. She doesn’t really need it done but she appreciates it when I do it for her. As I was leaning over cutting it for her she kissed my hand and said “Grazie,” she asked me to sit next to her but because my normal place is to help another core member with his food, so I couldn’t

It is so nice to have people here so welcoming. It’s only the first week here and I’ve been given more love from these people who almost exactly one week ago were strangers to me.

L’amore è amore

I think I just had the greatest day of my entire life.

Let me start by saying the transition here has been rough. There is a lot of wondering about where I’m supposed to be and at what time. Until today, we have not been given our complete assignments. We knew we were supposed to clean in the morning but the afternoon schedule was still unclear.

This morning, like every morning, we cleaned for three and a half hours. It’s a pretty daunting task, all the sweeping, mopping, disinfecting, ironing, etc., but it is an integral part of community life. I can show that I care about the well being of the core members and assistants by putting an effort into the cleanliness of our environment. So each morning I listen to my country music and I clean.

After lunch has been the tricky part. It usually includes some more cleaning, snack and dinner preparation, then dinner and the dishes afterwards, all the while wondering if I’m doing things correctly or if I’m in the correct place.

Today we finally met with our volunteer coordinator and got our actual assignments and they include more time with the core members.

At lunch today we had a conversation about love. There was talk about the difference between family love, platonic love (which got changed into atomic love–which can definitely be a thing) and being IN love. There was all this chatter about the differences and I was asked if I have ever been in love (in which I proceeded to turn bright red apparently) but then a core member shushed everyone and said, “L’amore è amore” “Love is love.”

It is really true though and love should be the basis for all that we do. We as humans may have a million differences but setting all those differences aside and saying “I can love you because you have inherent dignity.”

In the four days that I have been here I have seen love in many different ways: the holding of hands, the praying together, singing together, in dance parties, in being together in silence, and especially in eating together. The main idea though, just being together, being with another even when I can’t communicate. It’s as simple as taking the hand of someone and you see the appreciation when they look back at you and give you a huge smile.

Tonight I ate dinner in a different house than I have for all of my time here. I was welcomed with a candle that signifies that the light of Christ and how they hope that light will enter into my heart so that I can give that light to the community. We ate dinner and I  just tried to listen, to absorb as much of the conversation as I could. I know most of the core members from different activities but was introduced multiple times just so it would stick.

We cleaned up after dinner and then sat around the living room watching the World Cup news. A core member came back from the restroom and requested that I specifically paint her nails. Needless to say I was pretty freaking excited. We moved to the table and she picked a color and I painted her nails. I asked her in completely broken Italian if she likes polka dots and I knew I wasn’t being clear by any means but she nodded so I put little polka dots on 4 nails and a heart on one nail of each hand. Now normally I’m not very good at this girly stuff but it was exactly what this core member needed. We did her hair and then she helped me paint my nails.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we were sitting doing our evening prayer and an assistant asked a core member if he remembered who I was. The core member responded, “Kelly.” The regazza whose nails I had just painted responded, “Famiglia.” I have been brought into this L’Arche family and after only 4 days I know that I can forever call this a home.

In this community it is not about good days and bad days. It’s a collection of moments. The moments that put a huge smile on my face, that fill my heart with joy. It’s about holding on to those moments, cherishing them and letting them overcome your whole self.

Love is love and that is all you need.image

First week jitters/thoughts

Please excuse my typing errors. I am typing on an iPad and they’re not known for their spelling/grammar corrections (meaning they change words they don’t need to).

After two weeks of traveling across Europe after a study abroad program in Spain, it’s nice to be able to sit still for awhile. I finally was able to unpack my things again and settle into my new life here in Bologna. Well… for 6 weeks at least.

I have been given this amazing opportunity to come here and spend time. I have been slowly introduced to the people here. It seems like it’s a lot to take in, the language is similar to Spanish so it’s easier to understand, emphasis on easiER, but still having quite a bit of trouble. Replying is where I have more trouble.

I was given the rundown on what I will be doing during a normal week. I have been given the “tricks of the trade,” from the amazing ladies who spent their last six weeks here. It was great to get their insight and ask them questions, especially since they didn’t get that luxury.

Officially I am now in day two. I feel like I’ve been here longer, but not in a bad way. I feel as if I’m apart of the community and it’s only been two days. I feel accepted in ways I never thought I would be. I haven gotten many hugs and I get greetings every morning.

I wonder if this type of community can be translated to different types of populations. Such as victims of abuse, child, domestic, Etc. Or maybe there are already communities that encompass this. This is really a community, I feel like this community has welcomed me with open arms, ever with my language barrier.

Sono Piena!

I AM FULL!

Plot twist, I’m not cut out to eat in this country. Food here is art….eating three courses and then still having room for dessert and espresso is an art form. Let’s just say I have not mastered it…YET.

This is my first blog post so let me introduce myself to those of you who don’t know me: I am a Nursing major with a Social Justice minor. Two years ago I studied abroad in Florence and Rome and absolutely fell in love with Italy so when the Moreau Center put a program together that combines service AND Italy, I was totally hooked. I speak almost zero Italian, but I can basically understand what is said to me, I just can’t respond (you know, minor details). I love polka dots, baby animals & baby humans, everything related to soccer and football, and terrible jokes with an emphasis on puns.

I have been in Italy for 2 weeks now though tonight is my first night here at L’Arche in Bologna. I have been to Rome, Assisi, Siena, Venice, Ravenna, and now I am happy to call Bologna home.

I am beyond excited, though admittedly nervous, about beginning my journey with L’Arche. I feel welcomed already and have made friends with a few of the regazzi-the core members.

For the past few days we have spent time with the two girls who have spent the past six weeks here in a formation/retreat reflecting on what the definition of friendship is and learning how they have developed this definition throughout their time at L’Arca. The connections they have made, the lives they have touched is evident by the smiles they receive EVERY time they walk into a room.

We have been blessed by Sara and Lizz as they have given us advice and perspective from their own time here and given us a resource when we feel entirely overwhelmed. I know I can’t fully appreciate it yet but I feel we will be indebted to them for their kindness.

I have had time to reflect on my travels and I’m just starting to learn all the lessons that this country has to teach me. I am not used to being surrounded by such beauty. This country and its people are filling me with a sense of profound joy that I have yet to truly experience.

So now I am ready to do and I am ready to learn. I am letting go of all of my nervousness, all of my inhibitions that take me away from being truly present. My philosophy for the next six weeks: TO LET BE. I am not going to worry about all that is happening or try to overthink, as I often do, but to just fully embrace all of it and let it change me. There is a plan for all of this and I know now that I have about zero control over any of it and I think I’m okay with that.

I welcome any and all prayers as I embark on an adventure to learn how to love and to be loved, about the L’Arca community, and about life itself.

Here we go…Andiamo Tutti!

I hate this part right here.

Remember that one time…

  • I was blessed to be 1 of the 2 first students from the University of Portland to be a part of L’Arche Bologna—thanks to the Moreau Center.
  • I panicked over not knowing Italian.
  • L’Arca core members and volunteers picked me up from the airport, and we quickly began something beautiful.
  • I was constantly in the wrong place the first week.
  • I met a Jesus look-a-like and he happened to be from Argentina.
  • I learned authentic Italian cooking and baking!
  • I was a giraffe in a parade and some local kid threw a bag of crisps (chips) at me in celebration.
  • I jogged along with my butterfly companion for a ¼ of a mile.
  • I was on the winning basketball team with the other volunteers and core members from L’Arche Bologna vs….some other very nice group of people.
  • I went to an Italian Yoga class but the instructor spoke English…which only meant that he could encourage me harder.
  • I trained 5 Special Olympians for their event at the Special Olympics. I’ve never been a more proud assistant coach.
  • I met Jess and Scott atop of one of the Towers of Bologna. They were two New Yorkers on their honeymoon.
  • I ate my weight in gelato.
  • I ate my weight in pasta and panne (bread). Grazie Maragoni!
  • I watched the World Cup with Italians, Germans, Americans, Belgiums, and a Portugese. Talk about diverse.
  • I ATE MY WEIGHT AND LIZZ’S IN CRESCENTINE!
  • Lizz took a 30 second time out.
  • I shared the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and my Mexican heritage.
  • Lizz and I nearly wee’d ourselves one evening when a frog jumped in front of us!
  • Three of us sat in a ball pit and watched an Italian film.
  • I had a “Discoteca” party with the ragazzi!
  • I had one of the most unforgettable summers with the most amazing people.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the Kardashians, I hope you have at least been keeping up with me! Above, I have provided you with “Remember that one time” events from the past 6 weeks in Italy. These events are only some of the highlights. There are also those that are so incredibly special and forever embedded into my mind that Michelangelo himself could not recreate the moment with his paintbrush.

I hope you have enjoyed the small glimpses into my experience here at L’Arche Bologna. Being one of the first students from UP here has been an incredible honor. We broke ground on something beautiful. I am excited for more students to experience a L’Arche community if they have not already. What is great about this program is the convenience of a L’Arche community back home in the US as well. For Lizz and I, this is our first time volunteering with L’Arche, but since being in L’Arca, we have been researching their various locations to continue Jean Vanier’s vision of praising one another’s humanity. There is a L’Arche community in Portland! Unfortunately, I no longer live in Portland because I am a recent UP alumna, but this experience has caused me to further address one of UP’s mission pillars of faith and service. As I continue to grow in my social work experiences as well as my personal, I am figuring out what sort of populations I could see myself working with in the future. Before this experience, I had little familiarity with folks living with disabilities, but I have since gone completely out of my comfort zone and surpassed these barriers. It has also caused me to want to go home, learn Italian, gain some money, and return in the next few years!

The ragazzi here are wonderful human beings. Each one of them has a beautiful story to tell and it makes them unique. After only 6 weeks they found a place in my heart and in my prayers. These are the memories I can try to explain to you, but I don’t know if you will fully understand. Michelangelo can paint his own personal image of God, but we cannot truly 100% fathom what God looks like. This. This is how I feel about my ragazzi experiences. To get to know a 25 year-young woman whose speech is limited, but the two of you very clearly have inside jokes nobody else understands. To get to know a 26 year-young man who cannot verbally express his needs and wants, but remembers the clapping game you play with him that makes him smile every time.

I like to live by the this quote a wise man once told me, “We are one beggar asking another if they want a loaf of bread”. This quote has become more of a way of living for me. Christ broke bread with the outcasts. He didn’t feel bad for them and send them a delivery. He sat with them and He washed their feet. For those of you who know me fairly well, you would know I cannot stand handling people’s feet. These past 6 weeks I have put my aversions aside. I went outside of my comfort zone. I massaged the feet of the ragrazzi. I helped some achieve great success (they were proud of themselves) in the bathroom. THESE. THESE. MOMENTS. Michelangelo couldn’t paint them, Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t act them out, Sally Jesse Raphael couldn’t interview me for further information. Basically, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles couldn’t offer me their best New York style pizza (not just because I have Italian instead). These are the moments I will cherish forever. Grazie ragrazzi. Tutti!

Don’t get me started on the volunteer friendships. They already know how I feel. Here is some love. Take the love and keep it forever.

What’s next on the horizon for this Phoenician? She has come to the point in her life where she will rise again and star anew. It is time to slow down and decompress these past weeks, and look forward to what is yet to come. To all those at home, know (as always) it can be a struggle to reenter into life back at home. Bare with me because it isn’t going to be an easy transition. Also on this note, I’m looking for a job that involves social-worky things! I have also learned I’m quite good at cleaning and working with others! Haha please message me for any availabilities.

Well, the time has come. This has been great. This will be one of my final blog entries. I may upload some videos and such later on, but this is the one with the carne. The meat. The good stuff. We have a few days of Formation with the new ragazza from UP and then….the undeniable.This has been such a great experience and I have loved every millisecond and every kilo of pasta of it! Know that you are forever a part of my life, and I am forever a part of yours (whether you like it or not hahaha)! This is arrivederci! Ciao tutti! Until next time!

Grazie mille!

Xx

Sara