The pixels in the big picture


Helping families pick out second-hand cutlery and put together almost-matching sets of used living room furniture. Moving heavy boxes of someone else’s stuff until I’m left with sweat-stained armpits and regrets about my business casual decision that morning. Sitting in living rooms drinking tea, or sitting in high-rise law offices downtown—sometimes just observing the legal appointment, other times interpreting for the clients.

My job is an eclectic mixture of activities, many of them strange: I rummage through a cabinet of donated toys, looking for anything that isn’t gendered with an angry facial expression or the color pink, and wrap it for the birthday party we’ll hold that night. Or I sit with a grown woman and make up simple math problems with coins to help her learn to identify Canadian currency so she won’t get fired from her new job as a cashier. I once got lost inside a huge mall after going with a client to pay for another month of cell phone service so we could communicate about her appointments.

There are emails and letters to advocate for bank accounts to be opened, for exceptions to be made, for families to be reunited.  There are endless, tedious forms to be filled out for housing and status and permission to work. Sometimes when I make appointments to fill out this paperwork, I end up wondering how much more mindless admin I can stand, but other times the paperwork gets shoved aside for impromptu marriage counseling, or the sacred gift of a deeply-held story.

Sometimes, the absurdity of my work is in the wild swings between the momentous and the mundane. There is the day when we receive news that one of the refugee claimants whose deportation we had fought so hard to prevent had died halfway around the world. Tears. Staring at the floor. Feeling that powerless sadness and rage all over again. Ten minutes later, I am in my supervisor’s office discussing registration papers for a contraband kitten—the family it belongs to has already lost so much, and I am not about to let them lose the one cuddly thing that is going right in their lives because of technicality.

In this job, the big picture is the very exciting aim of extending radical welcome by journeying with people through the refugee claims process and through their first few months or years of creating a new life in a strange country. Close-up, this picture is made up of a billion tiny pixels of day-to-day, not-very-significant-feeling details. It’s made up of repetition. Of boredom, even. But I believe in the big picture, and there are times when I get to see the whole image reflected in the microcosm of a single moment or conversation. Those are the flashes of light that remind me where all of this is headed, and drum into my soul the long-resisted truth that small things with great love is the only greatness possible.


photo credit: brianfagan <a href=”″>Week 30: Patterns</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

One thought on “The pixels in the big picture

  1. Kerri says:

    This is beautiful, Trudy. Have you heard the “long and boring” speech by Gary Haugen of IJM? I recommend you have a listen for encouragement. I think it is available on podcast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *