I live with 10 men and women who are very poor. None of them can talk; only six can walk. All of them have a very limited level of understanding. But each one has a heart. Each one has a real need for tenderness, love, and a stable relationship with another person. These men and women are weak and fragile. Most of them have passed through many different hands in their lives. They are almost constantly on the borderline of deep insecurity and anguish. It is difficult for me when I sense their anguish and know my incapacity to respond to it. Children who are loved and cared for by their mothers and fathers know deep security. They sense that in their fragility they are loved. They are not afraid. But children who have never known these privileged, stable relationships stemming from love that is freely given—who have only known aggressiveness and abandonment—these children live in depression: "I am worth nothing!" "I am only a source of anguish and anger for others!" "I am no good!" They blame themselves.
As they slip into a state of anguish, they are obliged to create defense mechanisms, such as psychoses or other mental illnesses. But there are other ways of defending oneself: anger, peculiar behavior, self-destructive gestures, refusal to eat. Behind all these defenses there is, and always will be, a heart that is vulnerable and yearning for relationship, love, and presence. But this heart is a very frightened one. It does not know whether it is lovable or not, whether it is capable of loving.
In our l'Arche homes, the aspect of service is quite evident. There is the cooking to be done, the evening activities to organize, someone to be helped. These are the thousand and one little things that have to be done each day. And service means action; one does something. A relationship of communion, however, comes into being through silence.