My day started around a conference room table at Family Court where a dozen women hashed out the status of a mother, her three daughters, and the child of one of the daughters. Two men also sat in the meeting but their meagerly tendered words floated out and landed with less impact than dust on snow. The women led: Strong women, loud women, women with definite opinions, splendid hairstyles and attitude. Two lawyers, two social workers, two parent aides, two relative-placement providers, an aunt, the mother and the fifteen-year-old mother/daughter. We danced the dance, flicked our nails, smoothed our hair, and brought the weight of our collective experience to bear on the little family afloat in a sea of poverty and pain.
Afterward, I took the fifteen-year-old, my client, for Chinese food before bringing her back to her foster placement. She brightened considerably when she had a bit more air time, talking about the other girls in the home, which chores she liked, and what she did with the dollar-a-day she gets for helping the foster mother clean, cook and garden. I asked her, “Is it weird walking into a restaurant with somebody who’s clearly your lawyer or some kind of social worker?” She opened her face to me, full and frank, agreeing, smiling, maybe surprised that I called it out like that. “Everybody knows,” she admitted. “I mean, you’re white, for one thing.” We hadn’t said that outloud; maybe she didn’t think I knew. We laughed and rose from the two-top at the funny little restaurant on Troost.
At the end of the day, I gathered at a Wellness Table, a meal served at my friend Cindy Cieplik’s house with the deliberate intention of promoting a healthy life, mind, body, spirit and soul. Ten women, ten stories, around the table we shifted. We spoke our names, told our tales, passed the plates. When the meal concluded, we grouped in twos and threes for snaps of the iPhone, Cindy in each cluster with her shining spirit and strong, lithe frame. She slipped her arm through mine and leaned, close, and in her husky Chicago voice told me, “We need to talk, I mean, I know we’re talking, but, we need to talk, know what I mean?” I did; I knew exactly what she meant.
My day draws to a close and I am quiet now, alone, thinking about tablefuls of women, feeling the crackle of their energy and the keen, clear resilience in the words which flowed from them. I drift to sleep, lulled by the lingering cadence of their voices. They sustain me. I am at peace.