Learning Exchange

by Jacqui Ferraby

Trek Program Writing Contest, 2003

Model a healthy lifestyle
This is what I was challenged to do
l’m supposed to “leave the residents as they are”
Don’t try to change them
Be a friend and model a healthy lifestyle
Schizophrenia is a very complex illness
The symptoms are different for each individual
In fact, the resident I visit is a complete nut
I know this because he tells me every time I see him
“I’m crazy you know,” he says
“You sure are,” I reply
As we both burst into laughter

What is a healthy lifestyle?
Is chain-smoking a healthy lifestyle?
Is bathing once every two weeks a healthy lifestyle?
I don’t care to know the answer
I no longer visit to model, or teach a healthy lifestyle
Mine’s not the healthiest in the first place
It’s riddled with disease artd denial

“I haven’t laughed like this in a very long time,”
“I just want to thank you because you’re good to me,”
“You do it out of the kindness of your heart”
Sometimes he tells me these things
I can but smile
Little does he know,
I enjoy visiting h1m as much as he enjoys seemg me

At some point I stopped teaching
And I started learning
It took a long time to open my mind to this
To accept this
What can someone with schizophrenia,
Possibly be able to teach me?

”A little kindness never hurts,”
he’ll point out as I decline a request for money
He, despite having very little to live on,
Often gives generously to others in the Downtown Eastside
“I was homeless once too,” he tells me,
“I know what it’s like.”

When l struggle with my own problems
He knows just what to say
He has the answers, not me
He’s been there too
We have lots in common,
Despite many differences

He’s not too old
A few years more than my parents
But he’s wise beyond his years
He’s lived..
He’s lived in a famtly,
In the streets,
In the cold,
In the hotels,
And finally in his current home

I’m walking down the street to see him
He spots me from a block away
And I can see his face light up
He’s grinning from ear to ear
As I glance in the window of a building I’m passing
I see this identical smile
In my own refiection

Who knows what lessons I’ll learn today
Or what mysteries of the world we’ll unravel