From a worldly viewpoint, His-Fu’s life may seem intensely useless. Hsi-Fu does not know how to read, cannot even sign his own name on legal documents, and is not able to hold down a job. He spends his days largely sleeping, listening to music, and eating. The world may look at Hsi-Fu and think, “what does His-Fu have to offer to anyone?” They may even incorrectly think, “Hsi-Fu has nothing to offer to this world. He requires so much care and is not able to reciprocate.”
However, for anyone who thinks that, I can guarantee you that they haven’t even spent an hour really getting to know Hsi-Fu. Hsi-Fu and I have been friends for the past seven months as we have shared a house together. There is still so much about Hsi-Fu which I don’t understand. In many ways, we are still building our relationship, but then again, that is the way relationships should be. They are never completed. They are always transforming and growing.
Unlike the two rambunctious core members in my house, Darryl and Mary-Anne who I had almost an instant connection with, getting to know Hsi-Fu has taken much longer and requires more patience. Yet, when I spend time with Hsi-Fu listening to music with him or helping him to eat, I begin to form a relationship with him.
Hsi-Fu has by far been my greatest teacher at L’Arche and I’m not afraid to say that. When I first came to L’Arche I was an oblivious young hyperactive extrovert. If you haven’t figured out that combination yet, let me explain it to you in simple terms – it was a disaster. People who are young, hyperactive extroverts often can be a bit oblivious to social cues. It isn’t easy for us to calm down, be still, or to listen rather than talk. That’s who I was seven months ago. Yet, though my relationship with Hsi-Fu I believe I have really begun to mature and grow in some of these areas.
Since Hsi-Fu does not communicate using words, I have really had to learn to understand non-verbal cues. One click means yes, two clicks means no. When he tugs on his apron (bib) he is done eating, when he starts to make certain groans it means it is getting too loud in the house so I either need to put the volume on the radio down or else give him some alone time in his room. Other grunts and groans may signal that there is too much stimulation, that he needs some space, or that he wants gentle touch. Learning these cues has taken a lot of time for me, but I have seen how once I learned Hsi-Fu’s cues, my other relationships with friends outside of L’Arche have really blossomed. I am now able to understand when my other friends need some alone time or space, something which I was largely oblivious to before.
Hsi-Fu has also taught me the importance of savoring the little things. In the warmer weather, we like to go for walks and he will demand that I slow down or stop just so he can enjoy the breeze or feel the sun on his skin. Hsi-Fu always is a ladies man and he is quick to offer a kiss on the hand to any woman who comes to see him. He also gives the best hugs I have ever received.
When I think about Hsi-Fu I see how much he really has to offer to this world. Even though the world might say that someone who uses a wheelchair and is unable to communicate verbally is not of much use to the world, I know they are wrong because Hsi-Fu is a better teacher than someone who has ten PhDs and he is more patient than even the most skilled counselor. Getting to know him is an adventure and once a friendship is formed between you and him you know you are holding a rare gem in the palm of your hand.
That’s why I’m so thankful I could help celebrate his 39th birthday at L’Arche. Happy birthday to a very special man who loves community and is dedicated to our house. Happy birthday, Hsi-Fu.
Deborah Ferber is a Field Associate and blogger for ADNet.