Where is your bed pillow?

Shuinota house strikes a goofy pose at L'Arche Seattle.

Erin (bottom left), Bess (top right) and other Shuinota house members strike a goofy pose at L’Arche Seattle.

Where is your bed pillow?

This question isn’t strange at all if you’ve spent any time around my housemate Erin Kinney. She asks this of just about every person who walks through the door of our home. Erin doesn’t ask what you do or who you know. No, she has a way of going to the heart of things, right away… where is your bed pillow… your softest, most personal item… where is it?

She asks this of her long time housemates, as well…even though she knows the answer. It’s on my bed on the third floor, just like always Erin. She asks us on our birthdays, our anniversaries and after we return from being away. She asks us when we are upset, or stressed, or when she senses change or instability.

Where is your bed pillow?

Where is your tenderness? Your softness? Do you know? Do you think about it? Have you forgotten? Erin wants to be sure that you know…and she will call you back to it, to the softness in you that she needs.

That I need.

That we need.

Erin calls me back to tenderness, and truth be told…I absolutely need her to.

I didn’t know how deep my need for gentleness was, until I came to L’Arche. Previously, I worked as a freelance photojournalist and photo assistant. Part of me loved it, traveling with my camera, meeting people and endeavoring to do their stories justice.

But part of me suffered….hustling to meet deadlines, long days shooting and late nights editing by the glow of my laptop. Arduously climbing up a steep ladder, where each rung meant toughening up a little bit more… losing my softness, trying to shed my weakness, in order to “make it”. And trying to excel as a woman in this highly competitive field? Better make sure every chink in the armor is sealed, and never, ever, let ‘em see you cry.

I started to wonder if solitary toughness was where I wanted to exist…

And then L’Arche happened to me. A place whose mantra was culturally foreign yet personally alluring…

“Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic thing. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.”

Where is your bed pillow?

Here, in this wonderful, crazy, outlandish place, everything turned on it’s head. I have learned that great power is enfolded with weakness. I have witnessed those used to being last, finally being counted among the first. The fringes have become the center. Everybody is celebrated, not one is forgotten, overlooked, or uninvited. Naps, strawberry jello, The Sound of Music, seeing a fuzzy cat, leaping out and scaring your housemates, Costco hot dogs, being the first one to the mailbox, and finishing a 1000 piece puzzle culminate as our magnum opus. Little deals are big deals, and throughout, all are seen and all are cherished.

We practice this upside-down way of living in response to the deep ache in our world and in ourselves… for love, for peace, for tenderness. We hope to bravely show, that another way…a softer way, can work.

Our founder Jean Vanier says, “L’Arche is simply a tiny sign, among thousands of others, that love is possible…that the world is not condemned to a struggle between oppressors and oppressed. We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time.”

No dead-lines, no hard-lines, and no bottom-lines…

Just the ordinary becoming extraordinary…

Where is your bed pillow?

-Bess Brownlee, L’Arche Seattle Assistant