Stories

Memory Box: Pinewood Floorboards

What does a set of 1940s floorboards have to teach us about COVID living?

Knock, knock, knock! It isn’t Morse code, though it’s a form of communication you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever lived in an apartment building. Knock, knock, knock! We hear the knocks through a wall or the ceiling. “Turn the music down!” “Stop yelling!” “Be quiet!” The knocks are a call for silence. That was the case, at least, until a nun named Elizabeth Buckley came to L’Arche Daybreak.

Elizabeth joined the original L’Arche community in France shortly after L’Arche began. She went on to found L’Arche Inverness in Scotland and L’Arche Boston (which you would have guessed was her hometown if you heard her wicked-awesome accent). She spent decades there as the Community Leader before joining L’Arche Daybreak in 1990, when she was fifty-eight.

She moved into the Big House’s cozy basement apartment with the goal of becoming the “hermit of Daybreak.” Instead of the leisurely life of prayer she expected, she quickly became a mentor to Daybreak’s entire leadership team. On any given day she’d shuffle along the office’s hardwood floors in her house slippers, spending time with the whole team.

She encouraged everyone to share their problems in the “Queen Mum’s” office, which she called “Buckleyham Palace.” Her door was always open for a chat, some guidance and a good cup of tea.

As she sat there knitting, she spun yarns out of her many life experiences. Everyone came away from those conversations feeling better than when they arrived.

But the retired Community Leader drew the line at joining the team for meetings, which happened in the office directly above her apartment.

During the meetings, however, she did offer help in her own unique way. “If ever you’re going through a tough time,” she said, “and you don’t see a way forward, just knock on the floor and I’ll pray for you. Day or night, you can knock and know that I’ll be down in my apartment supporting you.”

The nun’s services were called into action on many occasions over a decade. Knock, knock, knock! Whenever Elizabeth heard the knocks through the old pinewood floors, sprinkling some of the old house’s dust onto her short grey hair, she put down her crossword and prayed. After knocking, the team felt relief knowing that they weren’t alone in a tough moment.

As Elizabeth got older, she slowed down and needed assistance. Help was never far away. The office team considered it an honour to be there for her.

During the last years of her life, she continued to hold court at Buckleyham Palace, listening for knocks on her ceiling and offering her support. Then, on July 24, 2016, the knocks went silent. Elizabeth passed away, at the age of eighty-four.

With Elizabeth gone, everyone in L’Arche did what they could to fill her slippers. Knock, knock, knock! A call to silence no longer; thanks to Elizabeth’s example, it’s a call to action. When we hear a knock—whether it’s against a floor or a door, in the form of a ring or a ping—we offer help, however it’s needed.

Sometimes it’s easier to offer help than to ask for it. Always remember that everyone needs help during tough times. As our global community now battles COVID-19, we'll get through it with help from one another. No matter what you’re dealing with—whether it is illness, anxiety or financial stress, you never have to suffer alone. Please, come knocking.


Michael and the Bigger Story

It was a man of few words who taught me to see all stories, even the ones that cannot be spoken.

Church Street House and Helen

From “Accidental Friends: Stories from my life in community” by Beth Porter – now available in Canada from Novalis

Joe Clayton: Art, faith, and community allowed me to heal

Joe Clayton shared his powerful life story at a recent symposium, Flying to Freedom: The Journey from Institutionalization in Ontario and at L’Arche Toronto’s Listen to My Story. This article is reprinted with permission from Community Living Ontario.

“Cool!”

Tiana really liked Gil’s slideshow and she wondered what he would think of her photos. So, naturally, we went to the man himself to get his reaction as he watched Tiana’s slideshow.

“The Unremarkable Encounter” from L’Arche Honduras

Have you seen the remarkable story of Santos and Pipe? Check out the 3-part series that tells the story of their lives and the unremarkable encounters that lead them to where they now are.

Marcos’ First Love

Episode 11 of the #AsIAm Web Series

Claire de Miribel, a source of inspiration

Have you heard of Claire de Miribel? The elders of L’Arche will no doubt remember that she was one of the first coordinators of L’Arche Internationale. Like Jean Vanier, Claire was a source of great inspiration for many people and a model of deep commitment to the mission of L’Arche.

A Gift with Words

Mary Jean Hillhouse is a woman of words. It’s not that she speaks nonstop, but that when she speaks, you stop and listen.

When a Man Becomes a Butterfly

Richard had a disability. A childhood fall from a horse had long-term repercussions. Whenever he walked, he leaned slightly to the side, as though he were always about to gather flowers along his path. As it happened, Richard possessed an intimate understanding of flowers and plants, calling each one of them by name. He knew their gifts and fragility, as well as how to take care of them.