I was sprawled across her couch. The candles flickered.
It was the eve of my last day at the coalition where we worked. We were musing on what my next gig might be after my move. “Something in business? No, something more creative…”
I felt the pulse of possibilities, the expanse of all things new. I was ready, hungry, on fire to find the next thing.
She got quiet.
And then she said, “you’ll always be an advocate, you know.”
I didn’t know it then—this truth—or maybe I did, some part of me. Something permanent happened to me when I took that first job. There was a seismic shift in my spirit after the days of sitting with advocates, visits to shelters, road trips across the countryside for trainings and court dates. Something changed in me. I will never be the same girl that I was before I answered that very first classified ad.
Hers was a statement. Not a question, not an option.
I laughed. Mused some more. “You think?” I asked lightly.
Ten years and seven months have passed since this conversation. I’ve worked for a museum and a University. I’ve preached prevention across the country. I started my own company. I’ve become a mother twice over, an aunt, a coach.
I am still, and will always be, that advocate.
He was five. And perched on the back of my chair, peering over my shoulder as I pecked at the computer. It was late afternoon. I was sending an email to the pro bono attorney who was taking the case of my client. We had court in the morning. I needed to get this email out fast.
And he was more than ready for me to walk to the park. He fidgeted some more. Arms squeezed around my neck.
He said, what are you doing?
I said, I have to send an email—a note—for my work.
He said, what is your work? Do you help bad guys? He grinned. He was really into Star Wars and Darth Vader at the time. He knew I didn’t love all the bad guy talk.
I said, actually, I help people stay safe from the bad guys. I looked at him to see how this news landed.
He said, are you a mommy?
I think that sums it up.
I love you. I really do.
And, in just 20 days we have already shared a round of family flu, a case of head lice (oh yes), lost luggage, missed flights, snow storms and the Ice Armageddon. That’s the short list.
Do we need an intervention, a smudging ceremony, a new word for the year? Or maybe just a cup of tea by the fire and a few hours spilling in my journal?
Just say the word and it’s a date.
It was the middle of the afternoon. You called. Three hours away. We hadn’t talked in a week or two.
You sobbed, I can’t do this anymore. I really think this time, I can’t go back to work. I just don’t think I can do it.
You told me of those final hours of the hearing. Of the waiting with the family. Sharing snacks and patting knees. You told me of visiting with her when you could. You told me how her face looked in the room. You told me about the hours of testimony. The people who said she’d spent years being abused. And when the decision came, after all the evidence, after all the words on her behalf, it still wasn’t enough. She was in for good.
And you tried to stay strong. For her. For the family. And, oh you did. But the tears came. And as we talked they came again and your voice broke. Will this ever get any easier, you asked?
You were at your edge. The edge of turning away. Of numbing or cracking or giving it all up for work that doesn’t have these kinds of edges. You were right there at that spot, peering over.
And there was nothing I could say to make it better. To change the verdict. To make it easier. To promise that next time it would be different. Instead, I let you sob. I practiced more of this art we practice of holding space for each other.
You came back from that edge. Thank God for that. And yet that edge and all the ones that came before and that came after, shaped you and your work. That’s what they do. They shape us. They tattoo the lessons and memories and questions on our spirits.
I have mine too.