What moments in your career have given you the most satisfaction and fulfillment?
In 2009, at the Otay Mesa Detention Center thirty minutes east of San Diego, and just a mile and a half from the U.S.–Mexico border, I met my 20-year-old client for the first time. I had recently finished law school and was working for a nonprofit representing asylum seekers, most of whom were from Eastern Africa. He arrived in the U.S. seeking asylum from Somalia, his entire family victims of ethnic cleansing outside Mogadishu. He was shot in the stomach, slashed across the face, and left for dead the day he decided to flee. He was one of the lucky ones. The virtually nonexistent medical care at the detention center left him dying from infection, our translator, Omar, and I his only advocates. After somehow surviving his trip halfway around the world with a bullet in his abdomen, he miraculously survived. Those two enormous hurdles cleared, it was now my responsibility to prove in a U.S. immigration court that he would be killed if he were forcibly returned to Somalia.
Eight years later, I was in another hospital room, this time at Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, CA, and under very different circumstances. My client, 61, had recently suffered a massive stroke, leaving him capable of little more than eye movements and the slightest facial expressions. In this state, he was soon to inevitably leave behind an adorably loving and utterly terrified wife and two young adult sons. I began working intently with the couple about two years prior as their financial advisor. Their goal was to simplify their chaotic estate and finances so they could return their full attention to their local Los Angeles medical practice and Doctors Without Borders work in South America. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the three of us spent 15 hours together those first two years. We’d become close, and I was the only non-family member allowed in the hospital during this time.
I have walked two very different paths in my career, but both have intimately shown me elation and despair. At the time, I questioned if I should have even been in the hospital rooms alongside my clients. These moments were filled with pain and worry, and I felt helpless in them. But sometimes it’s in the hardest moments where we find purpose and fulfillment.
My client from Somalia was granted asylum. Eleven years later, he regularly writes and sends me pictures of his wife and children, braving still unfamiliar Minnesota winters and taking every opportunity to remind me of our connection and his gratitude. Even after my client passed away at Methodist, his wife continued her frequent trips to the office. After months and months of work, their financial matters were finally buttoned up shortly before he fell ill, so her visits were not to conduct any business. She calls and visits just to share about her charity work and family and to hear stories of my own young kids. “My husband knew I was going to be okay, and that’s because of you,” she still says to me.
When I reflect on what’s fulfilling and what’s satisfying about the work I’ve done, I think about each of them.