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On ‘Being Astonished’ in Peace House – Courtney E.

Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. —Mary Oliver

A few Peace House moments to which I “pay attention,” but find less “astonishing” than when I visited as a Holy Cross student include:


  • Jeffrey playing the harmonica for his “prayer leader night”
  • Viva reaching for my hand during an outdoor walk
  • Joy delivering a joke with perfect comedic timing during morning routines
  •  Jack settling in beside me to help chop vegetables for dinner


In Peace House, we have been referring to the past two years as the “Holy Cross Era.” Despite attending this small college for three overlapping years, fellow assistant Jack Chaffee and I did not meet until sharing life in Peace House. We have marveled about the impact of our L’Arche Jacksonville/College of the Holy Cross Spring Break Immersion experience; and how we both became L’Arche assistants as a direct result of that experience.

Following a pandemic pause, we were excited to be among those who welcomed back Holy Cross students (including my younger sister Julia!) for a Spring Break Immersion. It was certainly a “full circle” moment to be on the other side of the table for the “Life as an Assistant” session. During that session, students shared how profoundly moved they were by each and every interaction with community members, especially core members. We shared in return that, now in the groove as assistants with months of sharing life in our rearview, we don’t find each moment to be so “astonishing.”

Reflecting on Mary Oliver’s wisdom, I wondered: was I not paying enough attention, remaining open enough to be astonished, or spending enough time telling about my L’Arche experience? Why did I not seem to feel as profoundly moved by our day-to-day as the students were, or as much as when I, too, was a student?

Moving into L’Arche Jacksonville, I expected the ordinary to become extraordinary. Instead, the extraordinary has become ordinary. Now, THAT’S truly astonishing!