l’Arche is a Christian community where people with and without developmental disabilities live together and create community. I lived in l’Arche, Winnipeg, with Nicole, Ross and Bob.
The three of them rode the bus to work every day. Ross and Nicole could take the bus independently, but Bob could neither read nor speak, and so he always needed someone to accompany him on the bus. Left on his own, Bob could easily take the wrong bus, miss the correct stop or even go off with a stranger.
One afternoon Nicole and Ross came home without Bob. “Where’s Bob?” I asked.
“He didn’t get on the bus,” Nicole explained.
“I can see that he did not come home with you, but where is he?” I asked more insistently.
“He didn’t get on the bus,” Ross responded.
“Did you see him after work?” I persisted, trying to figure out what had happened.
“No,” Nicole said, “we didn’t see him, so we left when the bus came.”
I began to panic as I realized Bob was either still downtown or had gotten on the wrong bus or…I tried not to get carried away with what might have happened to him. I was very angry with Nicole and Ross, because they knew they were supposed to wait for Bob.
A few minutes later, though, Bob arrived with someone from another l’Arche house. He was visibly upset, his face red and teeth clenched. Although Bob did not speak in sentences, he was able to make himself understood.
I brought Nicole and Ross together with Bob to talk about what had happened.
“Bob, how do you feel about Nicole and Ross leaving you?” I asked. “Are you angry?”
“Yeah,” he shouted.
“Were you scared being left behind?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he groaned.
“Nicole and Ross, what do you have to say to Bob?” I asked.
“I’m sorry we left you,” Nicole offered.
“I’m sorry, too,” Ross chimed in.
“And what will you do the next time you don’t see Bob at the bus stop?” I asked.
“We will wait for him,” they both agreed.
Ross then extended his hand to Bob, and Bob took the proffered hand and shook it. Nicole did likewise. Bob then hugged each of them and I could see the anger leave him. He smiled as he hugged them, a genuine smile. He had forgiven them, just like that!
The three of them started to leave the kitchen. “Wait a second,” I demanded. They stopped and turned back toward me.
I wanted to tell Bob that he had let them off too easy, that this all happened too fast. I wanted for Nicole and Ross to experience some negative consequences for their actions for just a bit longer.
But, in those few seconds, as they stood waiting for me to speak, I realized that I had just witnessed true forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness I always want when I have made a mistake and apologized—and the kind of forgiveness I would like to offer others.
That moment has become a standard for me, reminding me of the importance of admitting mistakes, apologizing, shaking hands, hugging, letting go and moving on.
As I get ready to leave Pennsylvania, I extend my hand, asking for forgiveness from anyone I have hurt and offering forgiveness to anyone who has hurt me.