As I wrap up my Jesuit Volunteer year of service at Taller de José, it is natural for me to reflect on gaining a sense of closure to my experience. Working as a compañero and living in an intentional community with four other volunteers defied and upended my initial expectations of what this year was to be. One facet of my job in particular that I did not expect was that I would continuously be involved in the lives of certain clients of mine throughout the entire year. I have probably spent at least fifty hours accompanying each of these individuals to hospitals, law offices and courthouses.
A little bit of chance and divine intervention, I believe, brought me into the life of Angela*, the first client whom I accompanied at Taller de José. Being my first time on my own with a client, I remember that I was a bit nervous ahead of our meeting at a local Health Clinic. Fortunately, Angela LOVES to chat and, every time since then, she has always made me feel comfortable as she carries the weight of conversations.
Angela and I have primarily worked together on a worker’s compensation case and her related health care. Years ago, Angela was working in a factory when a large object fell on her leg, fracturing it. She was given only pain medication by the doctors, and stopped working until, one day, she was hospitalized. Angela had almost died from blood clots in her lungs which had formed in her leg. She immediately received an emergency operation to place a filter in her veins to protect her from future clots.
I have accompanied Angela to her medical appointments, helping translate in a health system that severely lacks interpretative services. We have also gone together to meet her worker’s comp lawyer. Over time, Angela and her lawyer have made significant progress on her case. Angela has finally won compensation for not being able to work these past years.
However, even after she had won this compensation, Angela’s heart remained heavy. The endless carousel of doctors and second opinions has caused Angela significant stress and anxiety. More than anything, Angela has wanted to remove the filter stuck in her veins and gain closure to this case. It took us both eleven months to finally reach the point where she will have her filter removed and live medication free for the rest of her life.
I know that, unfortunately, poverty and language barriers can trap some people forever in a vicious cycle of underpaid work and inaccessible social services. Many cannot gain closure to their life’s suffering. Yet, in my accompaniments with clients, Taller de José has taught me that none of us will have perfect closure to life’s problems and situations. Even I had many grand plans to grow in the four values of JVC this year (spirituality, simple living, community and social justice) and “fix” all the messiness of myself. While I’m proud of my growth, I find that I still carry many of the burdens as I did twelve months ago.
But what this year has also taught me is that, while we can’t always get closure, we can make those burdens more bearable when we begin to walk and accompany one other in the messiness of life. In truth, I now hope to not have as much closure to my experience as I had originally planned. My hope instead is that I will continue to carry in my heart Angela and the hundreds of other immigrants, undocumented and documented, who accompanied me this year and do their memory justice by the way I live the Gospel in my life. My hope is that you too may find new ways to walk with the oppressed, poor and suffering and bring the healing presence of God more fully into their lives and your own. God bless.
*client name and details changed to protect client confidentiality
Alec: Thank you for colorfully describing your time with Taller de Jose through your experience with Angela. Your passion and compassion will make the world a better place! So glad that you spent the past year with this important ministry to immigrants. Best of luck in all you do…
Alec – what a beautiful reflection! I volunteered through an org called Amate House back in 2009 when Taller de Jose was just starting, and I’m so happy it’s continuing to provided much-needed services to the Chicago community. I’m equally as happy that volunteers like you are gaining new perspective every day and sharing your thoughts with others. Thank you for your service an best of luck in all that you do.