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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Janitor

                                              Photo source

Dan was a quiet man. As he walked calmly, his slender figure seemed almost unnoticed in the halls of the nursing home where he worked. He was our janitor. 

“If you give him more than one task at a time, he gets all confused,” I heard some of my co-workers commenting about Dan. ”He is slow,” one remarked. “He was supposed to clean the ice chest and he didn’t,” another said. 

I knew little about Dan, but I sensed some injustice in my co-workers’ remarks. I felt Dan was merely judged by his facade of a shy, uneventful man. I wondered if anyone had taken the time to learn about his life, his family, his projects, his thoughts, his past.   

Dan normally responded to my greetings with a polite smile. He wasn’t eloquent. Many would say he was a man of few words. The fact is that I never saw Dan stopping his work to chat with others, he was normally doing something, even if it was at his usually relaxed pace. 

A few times when I bumped into him in the lunch-room, I took the opportunity to start a trivial conversation. For instance, I would bring up the latest news in town, or would mention the weather, or food preferences. He was always a pleasant man, although our conversations were normally brief. 

I once read a book about how the FBI profilers analyze people not by their appearance, but essentially by their behaviors. Dan certainly gave the appearance of being unable to multi-task, and needing a supervisor to tell him what to do. Yet in the long run, Dan often accomplished his work, and occasionally, took a TV or a piece of furniture with him to get it fixed at home and return it. 

“Thank you Dan for helping to solve the problem last evening.” I told Dan once, in front of his supervisor. “I appreciate your help in many of those situations.” 

Dan’s supervisor looked puzzled, but said nothing. 

“You’re welcome!” Dan said, drawing a half-smile. 

Later in the day, Dan came to my office. “Thank you for your nice comment in front of my boss. No one has done that before.” 

“Dan, you’re a hard-working guy, even if people don’t notice it, or don’t tell you.” I said with sincerity. “Unfortunately some people are more likely to complain, than to give praise. Keep up the good job.” 

I thought of the many times Dan came to my rescue in the evenings when staff brought me unexpected maintenance-related problems: 

“The telephone in room 514 quit working!” 

“The cable signal in Ms. Johnson’s room is gone!” 

“The toilet in Mr. Hale’s room is suddenly not flushing.” 

“We need a room change right now, there’s a situation...” 

Dan resolved these and many other emergencies, when all of the other maintenance and housekeeping personnel had already left for the day. Dan’s shift was normally extended through the evening. 

Shortly before New Year’s Day, as everyone was preparing for the New Year’s projects and resolutions, I was going through an exhausting day at work, helping some highly stressed families and a few anxious new residents. I hadn’t had lunch, and by the afternoon, I decided to reach for my “emergency lunch”—canned tuna and soda crackers I kept in my office. 

I headed to the break-room to eat my meal. As I walked in to the room, I noticed Dan sitting at a table, talking on his cell phone. I reached for my manual can opener and wrestled with it for a minute or so.

“Excuse my comment, but canned tuna is “poor boys food!” Dan said, with a near mischievous smile.

I laughed. “Dan, it’s been a crazy day. This is my emergency meal since I didn’t bring lunch, and I don’t have time to go out.” 

“I’m just joking.” Dan said, in a respectful tone. 

I was grateful Dan made me smile. That was the first time he showed me his sense of humor. In such a stressful day, those humorous seconds felt therapeutic. 

“I was just talking with my son.” Dan said. “He lives in Texas and wants me and my wife to be there to celebrate New Year’s Eve with him and his family.” 

I sat at the table, devouring my tuna and crackers, and attentively listening to Dan. I was thrilled that he was confident to talk with me about his son. I immediately engaged in an enthusiastic conversation about Dan’s personal life. Dan was a happily married man, with two sons. His son in Texas was a surgeon, with a military career, holding a rank of Captain. Another son lived in the area, and held a management position in a fast-food restaurant. Dan’s wife worked for a local hospital. 

“My wife has worked in that hospital for ten years. You know, she has sent us some people for rehab... she talks to people about our facility.  She knows this is a good place.” 

I was dazed at getting to know about Dan’s family, and their successful lives. I was marveled at learning of his loyalty to our company. It was as though a portal had opened, unveiling shining gems and golden bars in front of me—Dan’s principles and virtues glowed right there. I could no longer see Dan as the bashful janitor people would sometimes make fun of, or harshly criticize. I saw Dan now as a dignified man, a humble gentleman, devoted to his family and work, with integrity and honesty. 

Dan rushed to go back to his job, and as he stood up and collected his phone and placed it in his shirt pocket, I fixed my gaze on him, attempting to say something quick out of the multiple thoughts swirling in my mind, and my evident astonishment. Dan was almost by the door, when I finally managed to exclaim:

“What a great family you have, Dan. Have a safe trip, and a Happy New Year!”


Bica said...

Loved this post, Doris. What a nice tribute to this very hard-working man.

Arkansas Patti said...

How quick we are to judge those who walk quietly yet purposefully through life. Thank you for another lovely post and showing us that often it just takes a scratch of interest to remove the protective shell and reveal the precious person beneath.
Have a wonderful 2013 and please keep these warm and wonderful stories coming.

Bobbie said...

I love this post! Everyone has their own story and life. Dan sounds like a guy who's actually pretty confident in himself and just needed a kind heart to bring him out of his shyness. So many tend to be such 'judges' in life. Bless your heart for taking the time to be a friend to Dan. Have a blessed New Year!

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a wonderful post, Doris! That's so great that you cared enough to thank him in front of his boss and to get to know him. Too often, people just others by superficial externals and never bother to learn more. And you discovered a true treasure! Thanks for another enlightening and uplifting post!

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Doris,
Such dedicated and shy people often have a fountain of love. Love for family and their work. Not all are apt at expressing themselves well, nor do all function at the same pace. But if we take the time to look into their pure souls, it does teach us a lot!
Happy New Year to you and your loved ones as well.

Unknown said...

This was such a timely reminder to slow ourselves down and get to know people by being sincerely interested. Thanks for a great post and story.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Doris - Happy New Year and please keep posting these sorts of stories through 2013 - they're always a delight to read.

We have someone like that who works for the Nursing Centre where my mother lived out her last years ... I must show this to the Manager - it's a lesson for us all ..

All the very best and it is a wonderful post .. Hilary

Cynthia said...

I really enjoyed this post. My grandmother would often remark that "still waters, run deep." I think she would say the same of Dan. Please, continue to write your stories, as they warm my heart! Happy New Year and much peace!~Cynthia

floweringmama said...

This post reminds me of one of my human behavior classes where I learned that I don't always know what the student next to me is going through. I thought he was a typical 19 year old party kid. Turns out he was a single dad trying to make a better life.

Great post!

Unknown said...

As always, a wonderful account and how very true.

Linda Myers said...

How often we judge a quiet, steady person as being unintelligent or boring. Thanks for the story.

Cloudia said...

Bless you, wise loving heart.

You are ALOHA~

Warm Aloha from Honolulu,
Comfort Spiral
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A Plain Observer said...

How did I miss one of your posts for a week?
I must admit it is hard to get past the facade of a person to dig deeper. I have and almost every time I have been surprised by the treasure they hold.

4 Life said...

I don't know if this is a lovely story you wrote about a man, or a lovely man you wrote a tribute to - but I couldn't take my eyes from the page until I'd read every word. Lovely! We are often so busy that we are quick to judge people, rather than getting to know them. Cheers to all the dignified, kind and hardworking (without complaining) Dan's out there!

Rob-bear said...

Our world is, indeed, full of Dans. They are wonderful, amazing people. Not just in what they do, but who they are.

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Anita said...

I loved your post, Doris. It just goes to show that we really don't know people, or assume that we do, by outward appearances.

Tyler said...

I definitely love this post, Doris. It's very inspiring and touching! You actually made some kind of friendship here. As I can see, Dan is a very respectable man. Reading this story makes me realize the quote, "Never judge the book by its cover." The inside is what really matters, and that goes for Dan's personality.
Tyler Perkins

Vilisi said...

LOVE this story! Just beautiful!

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Lalah said...

thanks for sharing this ma'am. it gave me enough reason to push harder my dreams to become a social worker the same like you. this post inspires me to listen more to the people who fix small jobs that some don't see it. thanks god bless ma'am.

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