By Eddie Gilmore  

I’ve always loved stories. One of my most vivid memories from Infant School is being brought into the carpeted ‘Story Room’, and sitting spell-bound as the teacher told us stories from children’s literature or from the bible. I had a sense then and I still do that stories can seem even more real than reality! They certainly have great power: to transport us to a different place, to draw out laughter or tears, to elicit awe and wonder, to give meaning to our day-to-day existence, to inspire, to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

Our shared stories are one of the things that bind us together as people, as communities, as nations. I’ll be meeting up soon for a drink with an old friend Richard. He and I and Yim Soon, my wife, were part of the ‘class of 88/89’ of new assistants at L’Arche Kent. Richard and I have a treasure trove of stories from our L’Arche years.  

As we sit and sip our beer, we will almost inevitably begin to dip into that treasure trove and to pull out tales of some of those unforgettable L’Arche characters, some of the events, even some of the mishaps that have shaped who we are as people and that have enriched our lives beyond measure.  

As an assistant, one of my favourite days in the L’Arche year was Holy Thursday, on which we came together to retell both the story of the previous year in the life of the community and the final evening Jesus spent with his friends. We would share a meal and re-enact a Jewish Passover tradition, where the youngest member of the family asks certain questions of the eldest member. ‘Why do the people of Israel eat bitter herbs?’ ‘Why do the people of Israel eat unleavened bread?’ etc.  

The word ‘remember’ literally means to put together again; and it has been said that the reason the Jewish people have been able to survive through the multiple persecutions and pogroms over the ages is because of their ability to tell and re-tell their stories, to put together again. 

On a recent Pause for Thought on Radio 2, I told a story about Denise, who lived for many years in one of the L’Arche houses in Canterbury. I was one of only two men in the world (the other being her brother-in-law Mike) that she called by their actual name. Most other men were referred to as John, or occasionally a nickname.  

Denise died sadly in 2018, but in honour of a woman who almost every day wore party dresses, fancy shoes and a flower in her hair, the invitation to her funeral had been for us to dress as if coming to a wedding. I was delighted to be asked to sing a song I’d once written for Denise. And I was so happy to have the opportunity to tell the nation about this special woman and how she had called me by my name and how she had touched my life. 

You can read more of Eddie’s stories in his latest book, The Universe Provides- finding miracles and inspiration in unexpected places (Darton, Longman & Todd: 2023)