My new job is all about life stories.... while my primary function at the law firm is to handle phone calls and facilitate an endless mountain of paperwork, the reality behind this work is the individual life stories that I encounter each day.
Our law firm handles Social Security Disability and SSI cases. We assist people in working thru the SS system to obtain the benefits to which they are entitled. It is a complicated, step by step process that is difficult for an individual to negotiate on their own. The wheels of the Social Security Administration turn very S-L-O-W-L-Y, often many months pass from when the claim is initiated to the point where one actually receives monetary benefits.
Most of our clients are already experiencing difficulty in their lives when they contact us because they are unable to work and have lost their source of income. For them, the waiting can be an eternity with no guarantee of the outcome. For sure, there are some slackers we encounter who are trying to work the system to avoid having to work themselves. They generally get weeded out along the way. But for the most part, our clients are dealing with hard situations, sometimes desperate, and all too often heartbreaking.
In recent weeks I spoke with an individual who lost a teenage daughter in a car accident, the emotional aftermath of which led to the loss of his marriage, his job, and eventually his car and home. He lives on the streets now and looks 20 years older than his chronological age. He sits in my office with tears running down his face as he shares the story of how he got to the point where he is.
Just a few days ago I took a phone call from a mother whose son was just involved in a car accident out of state and has sustained severe brain trauma. His eighteenth birthday is on Valentine's Day, and at this point he is fighting for his life and struggling to communicate with his family members on the most basic level. His mother is there with him, helping to care for him. It is not what she expected to be doing this month. I am a mother too, and my heart is breaking right along with hers for all those shattered dreams she had for her child.
There is the lady who lost her husband not long ago, then her job due to illness, and is now about to lose her home because she can no longer make the mortgage payments. She is near my age. I have no way to quickly rescue her from the collapsing house of card that is her life, and there are few resources she can turn to.
There are clients with cancer in advanced stages, who are unlikely to see their claims settled before their lives end, and their are clients whose mental health issues leave them incapable of handling their own life affairs much less holding jobs.
Homeless clients, some who stay at local shelters and some who don't, come into our office in poor condition, unbathed, tattered, worn and weary, and often dealing with mental health and/or addiction issues as well. I have a choice... I can roll my eyes and try to pass them off on other help as I've seen done, or I can remember what I have been taught... to look for the face of Jesus in everyone I meet, and to show true compassion. What remains foremost in my mind every day is that there but for the grace of God go I. I pray that if I or one of my loved ones ever find ourselves in that situation we are treated with kindness.
Life stories... I hear them every day. I see the pain in people's eyes, I hear the struggle in their voices. It is hard to remain emotionally detached, though to some extent I must. What I can do is to listen and show compassion. I can take the time and make the effort to let them know that I hear what they are telling me, and that I understand the seriousness of their situation, to agree with them that the process of obtaining help is slow and frustrating. So often just the fact that someone listens and cares can make a difference, even a small one. I pray for them throught the day too, I believe in the power of prayer, I know that it can sometimes move mountains.
I take the time to smile, to listen, to ofter a friendly touch or greeting, to show interest - not just in their legal case, but also in their lives. It gladdens my heart when hardened voices respond to gentleness, and when shame and humiliation can be put aside with caring words. I don't have a college education or great sums of money to use for great purpose, I don't have the ability to solve the world's problems, but I feel that God has put me in this place to share the one thing that is so often missing... a tiny glimpse of His love - a true connection between human beings that says, I care about you and what is happening in your life... a moment of dignity for a fellow human being. This is a gift of grace, and I feel blessed to be in a place where I can make at least some small difference every day.
Mother Teresa said to "Do small things with great love"...I try, every day I try... and at night I sleep in peace because I know that to the best of my ability I have tried.