Bénédicte Millet is a small, spritely, silver-haired dynamo.
Though it was the end of a long, busy day at L'Arche in Trosly, France she sat with me, listened attentively to my questions, and gave careful thought to her responses. She looked me in the eye and made me feel that what I had to say mattered.
Bénédicte works with a team of staff who support volunteers who come from across Europe to work at L'Arche -- a community that brings together adults with intellectual disabilities and young adult volunteers.
During our interview an older resident came to meet with Bénédicte. I assumed they had a prior appointment. Instead of ending our conversation, Bénédicte introduced us and explained I was from Canada. She treated this gentleman with great respect. "Bravo, Canada!" the man exclaimed. He then sat patiently while we finished talking.
Bénédicte first heard about L'Arche over 20 years ago when she was working as a speech therapist. "I was in Palestine working with deaf children and I met Jean Vanier who was there with a group from L'Arche on a pilgrimage," she said. "I was interested in how they related to each other. I felt they had very deep relationships. I came here to see and I've been here for 21 years. It's changed my way of life."
Before L'Arche, Bénédicte says she had always lived in her head -- "organizing, reflecting. I had lots of ideas, but I feel I was far from a human life. I was far away from a lot of people."
The message to change her life came from a L'Arche resident.
"I was still running a lot," she recalled. "To clean, to go to the supermarket, working, working, working. And one day a handicapped man in the home took my hand and told me: 'Now, you come and you sit here and you stay here.' And I did.
"I understood how this was a deep message for me to change my life and to pay more attention. In fact, I realize that (people with disabilities) have taught me to be really present. I see how I am different now. How I can be much closer to people. How my life is more interesting and more lively."