Me and Mel –a journey of discovering and living the mission – John Guido, 2011

~ John Guido, Regional Coordinator for L’Arche Ontario

John Guido

We met in 1985, when I came to live at L’Arche Daybreak where Mel had been living for 13 years. Mel was 43, has a developmental disability and is legally blind; I was 23, a graduate of Notre Dame University and had just left the seminary. Both of us were struggling with self esteem and frustrated in living a life which we felt was worth celebrating.

I was made house leader within a month of arriving in L’Arche so I learned how to be an assistant from Mel and the other members with disabilities, Karen, Greg and Janet, as well as Mary, Sue, Beth and Joe who accompanied me/the home in various roles. With their help, I realized I had a gift for listening well to what the folks who I lived with were saying.

In those days, Mel was often angry about his days at the workshop – he wasn’t allowed to do a man’s work and move big skids around –he was legally blind and surrounded by vulnerable people so it wasn’t possible. He was also having a hard time in his relationship with his dad who had remarried a woman who didn’t want to be close to Mel. Mel’s mother had died as he was moving into Daybreak. While doing a “Jesse Tree” before Christmas, we looked at characters from Jewish scriptures who were the ancestors of Jesus. They are Mel’s ancestors too – he loved them like his own near relations. I asked him if he’d had his bar mitzvah and he told me “no, I wasn’t able to.” I knew this was a big deal.

Mel and his Dad - Bar Mitzvah

Mel sometimes focused his anger on me as I was responsible for our home. At the same time, he was a man of deep compassion who was a major support to me and my family as my younger sister died of cancer. He put faith in me at a time when I barely believed in myself. I knew that I was a support to him and helped him name some of the frustrated dreams that weighed on him and the pain which this caused him, yet I was not good at finding solutions for Mel to meet these dreams. Before I left (after a year and a half) to go home and support my sister, I made sure that the community leaders and the new house leader knew the dreams Mel had for meaningful work, a better relationship with his dad, and to become a man in his faith.

Mel Riding

Over the years, many people have lived with and supported Mel and some wonderful things have happened for him: he found his dream job at the Daily Bread food bank where he became “volunteer of the year” – not for his skill at slamming skids of canned goods into each other, but for welcoming other volunteers and bringing spirit to the place; Mel learned to ride horses which also allowed him to feel like a man and connected him to a teacher, Jennifer, who introduced her widowed mom to his recently divorced dad helping Mel to reconnect with his dad and gain a family; and Mel was connected through the family of Ellen (who is also Jewish) and some assistants to a Jewish faith community where they could be bat/bar mitzvahed thus uniting their families and the L’Arche community with this Jewish community as they became adults in their faith.

In Mel’s story, we see the power of listening deeply to his dreams and desires, being attentive to the pain in his life, reaching out to new relationships where he could rise up and shine as a man who had gifts to give as well as needs to be met. Many people supported him to achieve his dreams, and he shared his gift with many more people. He can still be a pain in the neck about some things, but he has grown in self confidence and loves his life.

In my story too, the things I discovered while living with Mel – both my gifts and my frustrations -would take years of healing, growth, and the support of many who loved me in order for me to become a man. Today, I can say that though I am still a pain in the neck about some things, I have grown in self confidence and love my life.

John and Mel

Mel and I have had some amazing connections over the years since we lived together. A lifetime high was our pilgrimage in 1999 to Krakow, Auschwitz, the federation meeting in Paray-le-Monial, the funeral of Mel’s dad and then the Holy Land. We know that we are companions on the journey. Next year, Mel will turn 70 and I will turn 50 within a month of each other. Individually and together, we have much to celebrate.

December 2011