November Gratitude Shorts, Day 10
I saw the clumps (one divided neatly down the middle) strewn on the asphalt path, and was able to avoid them, this time. It took me a second—it didn’t look quite like dog poop, but it was definitely excrement (funny how we can discern that in miliseconds!)…too small for horses, and I’ve never seen a horse on the path…oh yes, the Canadian geese are here for the season! Plop, gloop, splat…smulsch. That must be what fresh goose poop sounds like when it hits the ground, and then when an unsuspecting biker runs over it. I decided this today. I didn’t smulsch it myself, thankfully.
As I admired my surroundings during this afternoon bike ride on a perfect fall day in Chicago, I wondered, who cleans this stuff up? The geese have no owner, after all. The trees along the path have been trimmed so as not to smack me in the face when I pass by. I see the refuse bins and rest areas. But I have never met the workers who tend this lovely public space.
Bill was the custodian at my high school. I think I knew his last name once, but I remember him just as Bill the Custodian. He was a tall white man, a smoker, and looked about 70. He kept his crew cut short and orderly, and wore dark blue overalls and a permanently stoic expression. His manner was gruff, blunt, and paternal. Everybody loved Bill. We considered it a personal triumph to crack a smile from him; he was a softy and we all knew it. One day Ma was with me after school and we passed Bill in the hallway. We exchanged friendly greetings and walked on. I remember Ma saying that we should always treat custodians and other support staff with great respect and kindness, because they do the work that nobody wants to do. They are why we can come to school every day and focus on learning, because the floors and chalkboards are clean and the trash cans are empty. Bill represented all of his colleagues with integrity.
I know most custodial staff work nights. I wish they didn’t have to—this schedule goes against the body’s circadian rhythm and the price we pay—both the workers and society at large—can be high. I feel naïve for thinking we should alter social economics so we can all work days, but really wish we could. I know it won’t happen.
So thank you, Bill and colleagues, for taking such fine care of our spaces—inside and out. We take you for granted, I apologize. Please know that you do truly noble work. God bless you, every one.