By Ali McCandless, Jesuit Volunteer
But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31
As a Jesuit Volunteer, we use the phrase, “ruined for life” to describe our year of service. Meaning, that when we return to our “real lives,” we will be ruined—nothing will be the same. The irony is that we won’t ever really return to our “real life.” You really can’t undo what has been seen, heard, smelled, and touched. You can’t un-see homelessness, the effects of domestic violence, the thousands of patients in County hospital or an endless child support case. Often, I have let these realities silence, paralyze and exhaust me. However, in this feeling of being ruined, what I am clinging on to as I end my year is hope. Hope for me is the knowledge that God will provide, maybe not in this hour or tomorrow, but God will reveal him or herself—in a sense of peace, in a long awaited answer, or in one moment where God untangles the mess of a day or week we’ve had.
This reality of being “ruined for life” is the joy of a client becoming a legal US resident, reconnection of utilities, and a family being recognized as legal guardians of their adult child. The hope lies in many places: in the court room where that one judge explains a situation without using legal jargon so that a client can fully understand what is going on; in the immigration officer who cracks a smile in a residency interview; in the generous clerks at the Daley Center on Fridays; and in the judges and public defenders at 26th and California who humanize clients with advocacy and restorative, fair sentencing.
Back in September, the second client I ever had was a woman in her 60s who was seeking a divorce from a man she hadn’t seen in over 30 years. She didn’t make the need seem that pressing; nonetheless, we began calling the legal aid resources that would take her case. After we were finished making calls and leaving voicemails, I told her I would call her if anyone contacted either of us. A month later, she got a call from a legal assistant from one of the organizations asking to come in for an intake. We went and they let us know that they would call us when they were ready to take the case. No one called for a while, but she stayed on my “to-do” list. Then 6 months later I get a phone call from her, saying that they had found a pro-bono attorney for her. Esperanza was one of the first clients who taught me how to hope, which is quite fitting because “Esperanza” in Spanish means “hope.”
Another client that I worked with very closely with came to Taller the day before New Year’s Eve. She had come in the office a few weeks before, but this time she came into our office in crisis. Not being able to walk up the stairs to my office, we met in the dining room and there she immediately broke down. She revealed she had just fled from a verbally abusive housemate and said, “I knew I had to get out of that situation, so I pretended to take the trash out and kept walking, all the way to Taller de Jose.” Fighting through the hysterical tears, she lamented on the difficulties she had been facing her entire life and her feeling of abandonment from God. As much as I wanted to get to the bottom of the situation and fix all her problems, all I could do was listen. I realized that she came in not even knowing what needed to be solved, but rather a place to feel free— free from judgement, free from the rule in the 20 years of group homes and free to be loved. Since then, we have met continuously to check things off her list to gain her independence back. She called me last week and shared news that achieved her most pressing goal yet—she advocated for herself and was placed at a more supportive shelter. She kept her faith and continued to hope, trusting that something or someone would provide.