By Claire Whalen (She/Her/Hers)
I love cloudless days. Not only is there something extraordinarily beautiful about seeing the bright blue of the sky stretching uninterrupted with the sun beaming brightly down, but it reminds of me of a place I called home for four years. I was fortunate to attend a university where we had many of these days, and my choir there even sang a song called “Unclouded Day.” Needless to say, cloudless days have come to hold a special place in my heart.
So it brought a huge smile to my face in early August when I walked out of my new home here in Chicago to an unclouded sky. But as I looked closer, I noticed that there seemed to be something a little different about the sky here. The combination of city pollution and the hot, still August air meant that a slight haze prevented me from seeing the pure blue color. And when I consider where I have been and where I am now, I think this is a perfect metaphor.
For essentially all of my life up to this point, I’ve been in school, where there’s usually a right and a wrong answer. You select true or false, calculate a math problem, or recite a date. It’s also easy to quickly learn if you chose correctly. The answer is as clear as a cloudless sky, and you only have to look up to see it.
I have quickly come to understand that working at Taller de José, and life more generally, is not this way. Often, a client’s challenges cannot be fully resolved within the hour and a half appointment time. Medical, legal, and social services and institutions can move at a painfully slow pace, and the first resources contacted may not ultimately be able to help. And so, in contrast to the schooling that has brought me to this point, our work here is not one of formulaic math problems and an instant grade. Instead, to accompany is to be patient and persistent. It is to keep looking for resources or calling agencies as an appointment stretches on, to take the time to slow down and explore a resource a little more carefully, or to remain constant in your dedication and rededication to a client’s case even as systems continually frustrate or disappoint them. It is to make the choice each day to give your best effort, and to know how to find consolation in the big steps for which a client waits the longest, but also the small steps along the way.
When I mentioned the hazy blue sky in Chicago earlier, I omitted something else I’ve noticed about the skies here. Maybe it is because so many work buildings downtown have gone dark after 5pm and the people who fill them have returned home to be with their families, but the haze seems to clear in the late evening, revealing beautiful sunsets. It makes me think – perhaps the best way I can describe the role of a Compañera is to be one who can both abide in the haze and move towards the sunset you hope to see.