I started my role as a compañero at Taller de José two months ago, yet I still struggle with capturing the full extent of accompaniment when confronted with the question, “What do you do at your job?” Some days I provide guidance to loving parents of mentally disabled adults as they apply for adult guardianship. Other days I spend more than an hour waiting on hold for emergency assistance programs with a client, hoping that they can get enough to keep their lights on at home. Many times, my hands are tied, and I provide nothing more than listening ears and sincere, loving respect. Accompaniment demands my full attention and utmost versatility, day to day, with every person I encounter. And as many times as it’s boiled over into frustration, I’ve reflected most on those moments where I provide nothing more than my presence. My client Mauricio taught me a lot about what it means to accompany people because he accompanied me through his wild and precious life.
Mauricio came to my office broken in many respects. He’d dealt and abused drugs for a good portion of his life. He told me about his gang involvement and near death experiences with gun violence. Most recently, he suffered a stroke and has trouble recollecting thoughts. He’s in the later part of his life, and all this has caught up to him health-wise. He came to me with the request that I accompany him to a diagnostic test at one of the major hospitals in the area. Nobody in his immediate family wanted to go with him, even though he could not go alone. So it was decided; I called the doctor’s office to confirm, and the next week I met him at the train station to accompany him.
From an outside perspective, Mauricio blends in with any number of rejected people. It’s simpler to just hold him accountable to his drug abuse, and violent crimes, and even to say that his health problems could have been avoided had he made different choices. “Why help him when he didn’t bother helping himself?” What this obscures, however, is the beautiful words he used to describe his deceased wife, his children, and newfound love for Jesus Christ. We shared many stories both before and after the medical procedure. With every detail of his weary life, he invited me into a vulnerable space. Not to say that I shared all my sorrows with him, but rather, I engaged with his life as he narrated. I nodded, disagreed with him, added some “oh you know!” to his “The Lord is good!”
Then there came silence. I didn’t know what to do next, and I still had to wait with him for a couple more hours after his procedure. So I pulled out my phone to play Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book album, because I know he told me how much he enjoyed his music. He tells me every story behind every song, and we have a great time. We end up listening to two other full Stevie Wonder albums together before we can finally leave.
A lot of people play important roles in Mauricio’s hospital visit that day: the doctor, various nurses, the social worker that set up the appointments for him. But all that would have been for nothing if somebody had not gone with him. I could have been replaced with any other person, really: a family member, a friend, an acquaintance. The vision of accompaniment demanded I go with him, however, and sit by his side, sharing life through the post-op repose. And that’s what I needed to do on that particular accompaniment: to be with Mauricio and jam out to Stevie Wonder together. Other times I play a more hands-on role, but all the same, I share life with the clients I see both inside and outside my office. I break down the barriers and walls that society upholds and bridge different lives together.