My job is not terrible. It is, in fact, quite wonderful, albeit sometimes in a way that makes me feel bipolar. I work with clients, mostly single mothers, who manage to inspire in the face of all that they’ve lost. Women who continue to be the rock that holds their families together. Women who look me in the eye and convince me that they’ll do just fine paying rent that’s one half of what they bring in.
Of course, with every bout of elation (mania), there’s a low (depression) to match. I have my dark moments. I meet mothers with three children who tuck their kids away in the homes of friends each night and walk themselves to the nearest bus, where they’ll ride through the night our of necessity and to avoid, at all costs, being an added burden. Their greatest fear tends not to be the overwhelming burden of their current homeless existence- it’s that somehow they’ll fail, or be perceived by the system of failure, and the only thing in their possession of value: their children.
These stories are impossibly hard to bear witness to, as are the tears that accompany them. Tears that I cannot lessen or even wipe away. I have no stupid joke to lighten the mood for a moment. Usually there’s nothing at all to say. Often my own tears join along in a quiet act of solidarity. They are of the “this is tragic and there is nothing (I mean, nothing) I can do to help” variety.
And then there are days like today. Days that make me feel like I’m a case manager extraordinaire, or a caring and effective resource in the least. Today I accompanied my first client as she signed a lease and received the keys for her new home.
Tonight, these few things will fill her apartment: her and her son, the beds that I bought them, and the bedding that’s kept them warm over the course of two years as they made residence (in a place we in social work refer to as, “a place not meant for human habitation”): a four-door sedan.
Today, as I half-jokingly teased my client about not using her $100 gift card for a new television—she looked me dead in the eyes as if I was crazy—I couldn’t help but notice the warmth that began to radiate from the innermost part of my being. Call it altruism. Call it an act of service. I know I’m getting paid here, people, but this feeling of shared empowerment, of betterment, of quite simply finding someone a home when they’ve been without one for so long. That otherwise indescribable feeling is worth any amount of bad days, any number of tears.