A short reflection on the life of Linda Slinger, by her friend and fellow L’Arche Daybreak community member, Trish GlennonWhen I first met Linda Slinger, I was a student at Marquette university in Milwaukee. Linda was visiting our university along with many other buddy pairs from L’Arche communities all over North America. During a staff meeting of the residence hall where I was working, the door suddenly opened and into the center of the room walked a petite young woman wearing a huge smile. “HI, I’m Linda–who are you??” she said rather enthusiastically. She then proceeded to walk around the room, shaking all of our hands, asking our names and re-introducing herself with as much enthusiasm as she did the first time. For the young men in the room, Linda gave a bonus kiss on the cheek. Linda had lit up the room–those in the room had visibly changed. Everyone was smiling and sharing in Linda’s exuberance.
Linda was my introduction to L’Arche. In this brief exchange, she managed to capture and announce so much of what the essence of L’Arche is about –welcome, joy, building community, belonging. We had all been touched by her genuineness and the extension of her welcome.
Before coming to Daybreak, Linda Slinger had spent much of her life living in an institution. While we do not know many details of her life there, we can imagine that even then, Linda did not hide her God-given treasure. Linda’s treasure was much too vibrant, much too outspoken, much to alive to be contained. And yet, Linda’s treasure remained hidden behind the walls of an institution for many, many years. Linda came to Daybreak in 1979 and when Linda’s treasure found freedom, she did not hesitate in extending it beyond even our community. Her life’s song was to let her light shine, and she did. In doing so, she showed us that our treasure is meant to be shared–we may carry it shrouded in our fragility and pain, but it is not meant to remain there–God desires us to break forth. Linda knew her treasure well, she gave generously, she lived a life of faith and of faithfulness, she taught us to care for our treasure, and she showed us how to set our treasure free.
Linda knew her treasures well. She knew the importance of feeling welcomed and Linda had an ability to extend welcome above and beyond. With her smile and her enthusiasm, she put newcomers and guests at ease. For those whom she knew–she had this wonderful way of announcing our name with such excitement it was if you hadn’t seen Linda in a million years. Linda had an incredible ability for making us feel special and loved. Linda gave lots of hugs and kisses. And her sensitive heart knew when something was not quite right: “You okay??” she would ask. It didn’t matter how you responded. Linda’s response was always a hug.
Linda was natural leader and she led from her heart. And while she had a special appreciation and respect for her head of house–all of us who were her house leaders really knew that Linda held more authority and actually had much better skills at dealing with difficult situations. There was a lot to learn from Linda’s no nonsense approach and her boldness. She always spoke her truth, but she did it with love and often with humour. She could give an assistant feedback that was honest and direct without crushing their eager spirit.
Linda always kept a watchful eye–making sure things weren’t forgotten and overlooked.
Linda offered daily gestures of care and compassion to her housemates. For example, at the Corner House, she would often get Alia and Tracy clean bibs, or help them put on their shoes. These were small things, but Linda knew of their importance–she knew that this is what friends do for each other.
She knew her friends well, knew what they needed, she paid attention to the details and was quick to remind you if you forgot. Linda was such a strong and outspoken advocate for herself–but, she had a particular attentiveness for those with little or no speech. She understood that their voices may get overlooked or not included–so she was there, role modelling for all of us that attentiveness is what is needed for understanding. She made sure her friends, especially those with limited communication, had a voice and were honoured with respect and dignity.
Linda truly knew how to be at home and she had a gift for creating home. She gave the introductions and tours when guests arrived. She held the rituals and traditions of the home and made sure everyone knew and understood them. For example: you absolutely did not even attempt to stand up from the table after the meal if you had been the cook; You do NOT answer the phone during dinner; Thursday night, ER is on (at least in the 90’s). Linda had her weekly chores and she loved to help in the kitchen especially when she was making spaghetti–her favourite!!!! And even when it was not her night to cook if six o’clock was looming and things were behind, it was Linda who would step in, lend a hand and reassure you that everything was going to be okay.
Linda’s life’s work extended beyond the home. She loved to work, she worked hard and she took her responsibility very seriously. I remember being at the wedding of Alia’s sister. The evening was getting late and Tracy and Heather were heading home–there was no way Linda was leaving before the dance started. So, she stayed with myself and Alia–I was a bit concerned because this was a Wednesday night—Linda needed to be up early Thursday morning because it was her day to work at Red Lobster. The dance started and Linda and Alia were the life of the party–Linda danced her socks off. We got home at 3AM and Linda summoned me to her room. “Help me set my alarm,” she asked. I told her that it would be okay if she missed work–it was so late–I told her to sleep in and I would help her call Red Lobster in the morning. Linda would not hear of it. “Set my alarm” she asked. So we did. And that morning, a few hours later, Linda was not a minute behind.
She cherished her work at Daybreak. In her work at Pubs and in the office she welcomed hundreds of people to L’Arche. Linda was often the very first person that people would meet at Daybreak. Linda’s love for her work and her love of those whom she worked with continued until just a couple of years ago.
Linda was a woman of faith and she was faithful to her treasure. Before Linda moved into the Corner House, she came to look at her new room. She of course loved it. But more important than where her bed or dresser would go, Linda needed a place for her prayer corner, or her prayer wall. She chose this spot carefully and thoughtfully. On this wall she hung photos of her family, her friends and housemates and her fellow community members. Linda was such an extrovert, but, in this little space where Linda sat each night before bedtime, she would invite you in to share a few moments of her interior life. She called us each by name and in a tender whisper she lifted us to God. Even there in her most intimate conversation, she was carrying us, leading us to the heart of God. Now, being Linda, you could in fact be taken off that prayer wall–but, it usually never lasted long–after all Linda was a woman of compassion and forgiveness–her heart was just too big to leave you out. Linda’s ability to carry us all came from her deep acceptance and belief of her belovedness. In her journal from her very first Renewal that she attended with Jo Cork–she wrote the following: “I get angry sometimes. I cry– but people forgive me. I start fresh. I talked to Jo today. I looked in the mirror and I saw the most wonderful person in the world.”
Linda knew that we must in fact take care of our treasures–we must nourish and renew our treasure often. Linda knew the importance of rest. Saturday and Sundays were her time of Sabbath–her time to slow down, to take space and recharge. She loved to sleep in–and by sleep in, I mean that she often sauntered out of her room on Saturday mornings anywhere from noon to 2 o’clock. And, she was never embarrassed about it. She was such a great role-model for living a life in balance. She could relax just as easily as she could work, play or have fun. Linda was good to her treasures, and she reminded us that if our treasures are to endure for our lifetime, we must slow down and “take a break.”
Linda also knew that sometimes, our treasures need be set free–Linda had a great sense of humour. She loved to be silly at times and participate in all kinds of ridiculous, good fun. Laughter was important–Linda’s hearty laugh was contagious–her laughter released her joyous treasure and it filled the room and the people in it. And, it drew out the joy in others. One of Linda’s most valued treasures was her gift of dance. As a founding member of the Spirit Movers, Linda helped to shape and inspire the call to announce God’s love through movement. Her joyful and prayerful dance reached and touched thousands over her many years of being part of spirit Movers. Linda simply loved to dance and boy, could she shake those hips and shimmy those shoulders. It was in dance that Linda sent her treasure soaring. Linda’s gift for dance could be in fact the metaphor for how Linda lived her life: Linda was a superstar on the dance floor. She could gather a crowd with her infectious personality and charism. She had great dance moves and great timing–but, she didn’t dance to show off–she danced from the heart. She danced because the joy within her needed to move and to be free. And, Linda pulled those around her into the dance–how often we found ourselves pulled, rather reluctantly, onto the dance floor–Linda didn’t take no for an answer. And as long as Linda stayed close, we too could dance–she showed us the way, she gave us the confidence. And the dance, the rhythmic and joyful beating of God’s creative love dwelling within never left Linda–it was there until the very end.
About ten years ago, life for Linda started to become more and more difficult. Her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was difficult for Linda and for all of us who loved Linda. Jordan House was created as a loving response to the changing needs of Linda and others–it’s quiet and gentle environment was exactly what Linda needed at that time.
The thought of Linda not living in our community left us all feeling sad, guilty, and a bit fearful. For most of us, our life in a long term care facility is imagined only as small, a place where perhaps our treasure, our vocation, risks being lost and diminished. Linda’s treasure however, found new and fertile soil at Elginwood. And so Linda in the last and most fragile years of her life, held up her treasures. Extending them, she once again set them free. She embraced her life there and she did as she always had done, she looked around and saw not strangers, but friends. She looked around and heard the call to share her treasures once more. She was attentive and looked out for many of the residents there; she introduced all her friends to her new friends. She simply dove in, lived it fully, without hesitation. She showed all of us that even when labelled and diagnosed, even with fragile and changing health, you cannot take God’s indwelling away–it is still there, still present, still giving, still calling, still longing for a place to dance.
In this past year of Linda’s life, Linda became less able, less active. Her days were spent mainly in bed, or sitting in her wheelchair. She communicated less and less. And yet, her most faithful friends made a beautiful discovery–Linda would respond to song–And so, this is what her friends did for her–they sang–they sang songs familiar and known–songs that Linda would have sung with her friends around the many dinner tables in community–songs that Linda gave movement to during her years as a Spirit Mover, songs that were sung at the Dayspring, at community gatherings and L’Arche events. Linda’s heart was still singing, reaching out, still listening and being carried by voices of gratitude.
Linda truly extended her God given gifts beyond what we could ever imagine–her vocation could not be contained. Linda’s life is full of rich examples of how she broke down and broke through barrier after barrier. She did it with boldness, with love, with humour, with dance. Even when her treasure seemed contained and hidden, her vocation broke through. What can so often be perceived as darkness, Linda once again took us by the hand, pulled us in and helped us discover light and hope. We celebrate today with truly grateful hearts, for having caught sight of the glory of God dancing in and through our beautiful Linda Lee. We love you Linda–