I want to share an old saying. It dates right back to 15 minutes ago when I made it up. “To find good news, look in a mental institute.” That just makes life so clear doesn’t it?

As I’ve mentioned before, as part of training to become a United Church of Canada minister I’m spending eight months working at an inner city church and a mental health hospital. I call this program Thirty Two Weeks In Heaven and Hell. Which place is which changes around from day to day.

Every Wednesday, I work on a mental health ward that houses those suffering from schizophrenia. Some clients are with us for a week, some for many years. Some have “privileges,” which are extraordinary freedoms such as being allowed to leave the building, even cross the street and use the corner store. Others can only leave with an escort and, though the care staff do their best, this may mean not leaving much at all.

Doing spiritual care for these clients is challenging. I suggested to one woman that she try to “listen to her inner voice.” Her response? “I’m trying not to listen to them. That’s why I’m here.” Fair enough.

Not taking client behaviour personally is another challenge. Last week, I walked into the ward happily sporting a short new haircut. Louise rushed over gushing, “I love your hair! You look just like Prince Charles!”

It’s hard to carry on a conversation because some clients find it difficult to keep words in logical order. I sat for an hour with Gordon who babbled to me earnestly and entirely incoherently as I smiled and nodded, all the while thinking, “Dear God, let me not be agreeing that Paul Martin was a modern day Gandhi.”

So, where’s the good news here? Well, it’s not “no matter how bad your own life seems, remember you’re allowed to cross the street,” though it’s a good thing to remember for sure.

On our ward, Dylan paints a picture that’s hung in the hallway and he grins for a day. Loni gets her hair washed and everyone tells her she’s gorgeous. Carson says he’s glad to see me and offers a smile, precious as the first spring flower.

Encouragement. Appreciation. That’s good news anywhere. And the best part is, it’s not a privilege allowed only to some. In any life, in any place, you can make it yourself.

– Anne Hines is an author and humour writer. She has written three novels and one
collection of nonfiction humour.