Tuesday, January 25, 2011


As we're beginning to prepare tax returns at my VITA site, we see a lot of a certain type of client. While the employed are still waiting for the W-2s to arrive, our tax clients are primarily folks with no taxable income - those receiving disability insurance, social security, or public assistance. Viuda. Ciego. Discapacitada. Retirado. New York City provides a small school tax refund to all its' residents (although why we're giving back money set aside for an under-funded school system remains a mystery), and these folks are the first to file.

Unlike our general clientele, they're rarely missing any documents. Each carries a fraying, overstuffed envelope or a faded plastic bag filled with various ID cards, official letters, bills, divorce papers and receipts. These scraps of paper and bits of plastic, written in bureaucratic language incomprehensible to even those who are literate and do speak English, are their only source of security. One missed appointment, one misunderstood letter, and their only income could be cut off for months. They rattle off their birthdates, medical conditions and financial situations with ease after years of waiting in offices and being asked to prove they have nothing. For many of them, la vida es esperar. Life is waiting.

Their waiting heightens my awareness of my own. I'm having trouble moving on from Advent, trouble following the church calendar past Christmas and through Epiphany. I resonate with Heidi Neumark when she says
Probably the reason I love Advent so much is that it is a reflection of how I feel most of the time. I might not feel sorry during Lent, when the liturgical calendar begs repentance. I might not feel victorious, even though it is Easter morning. I might not feel full of the Holy Spirit, even though it is Pentecost and the liturgy spins out fiery gusts of ecstasy. But during Advent I am always in sync with the season. Advent unfailing embraces and comprehends my reality. And what is that? I think of the Spanish word anhelo, or longing. Advent is when the church can no longer contain its' unbearable, unfulfilled desire and the cry of anhelo bursts forth.
As my clients wait for me in the reception area, as I wait for them to sift through their papers to find the ones I need, as we wait together on the slow tax program to tell us what their refund will be, I am aware of my waiting, of my anhelo.

Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

I'm waiting for that.

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