By Joan Stopka
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 was a relatively busy day for me. I had spent the majority of it at Rush University Hospital with one of my clients while she went through some testing. The coronavirus was becoming part of everyone’s vernacular at this stage but something in the news caught my ear that night. Because of my age and living with my husband who has a compromised immune system, I thought perhaps I should call Anna, our director, and let her know I was probably not going to come into the office the next week. That week grew into several more weeks and eventually months. Like everyone I feel like a caged bird with its wings clipped. My ventures out of my house have been limited to the food store, the pharmacy, and an occasional visit to the hardware store. My purchases for books, clothing, and household items are now done online. Zoom has become my lifeline with my family and friends. My sanity has been, for the great part, preserved by my next door neighbor with whom I venture out for a three mile walk five times a week.
I miss Taller so much. This August will mark ten years that I have been volunteering there. I miss the drive, leaving LaGrange Park in the morning, maneuvering down Ogden Avenue through several other suburbs and then turning on to 26th Street where I am surrounded by sights and sounds that propel me back to my beloved Mexico. Passing under the Little Village Arch before I turn north onto Albany lets me know I have arrived for another day. I feel comfort. I feel happiness because I will soon turn into the Taller parking lot where I will enter a building filled with my friends. I feel love and admiration for our directors and I am constantly in awe of our young staff of interns who have such a sense of service. All of us are there every day for the same purpose, to help other people navigate through their daily lives, to listen to their problems, to make the calls, and to walk with them wherever they need us to go.
I miss our clients. I am a first generation American. Both of my parents came from the former Yugoslavia, from the country now called Croatia. My father died seven weeks before I was born and my mother was left with a teen aged daughter and a brand new baby. During my early years I was attached to her side as she went to the bank several times to adjust her mortgage payment, as we traveled downtown to what is now Northwestern Hospital as charity patients, waiting for hours to see an intern or resident for our medical care and as we walked to the local grocery store counting out change to make certain we could pay at the checkout counter. My mother spoke what was at the time called “broken English” so I would help her understand what people were saying to and asking of her. Her death when I was nineteen and a Junior in college plunged me into a dark period. I guess I have been involved in “accompaniment” a great part of my life. I love my clients because in them I see my mother. Just ordinary people in a new land with new circumstances trying to survive and conquer new expectations, all in a new language.
Hopefully, the pandemic will subside and there will be a new vaccine to protect us all. I can’t wait to be back at full throttle. I, too, want to continue to serve “our dear neighbor”.