What Hope Really Means
Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. – Dalai Lama
Editor’s note: The following is short fiction, but the lesson is true.
The overnight janitor hitched up his pants after standing.
Pulling his ball cap closer to his eyes, he walked to the center of the cavernous hallway.
The floors needed new polish.
Tonight, his steel-toe boots would cover the same ground that was scuffed by more expensive shoes throughout the day.
I walked passed where he had been sitting.
A wooden stool was perched in front of a window with a perfect view of what waited outside.
Next to the stool was a radio with a missing dial knob.
Diana. Marvin. And the Temptations sang with him.
Coffee filled the cap from his stainless stain thermos.
A half-eaten sandwich rested next to the thermos.
I found the office I was looking for and then started for the elevator.
This day was finally coming to an end.
Home was next.
Comfort and peace waited for me there.
The overnight janitor splashed the last gallon of polish on the floor.
I was trying to make my way past him without slipping.
Turning my body sideways, I took small, deliberate steps just like I did when I was a young boy trying to cross the creek.
Just as my body passed his, I fell.
He grabbed my shirt before I hit the floor.
He placed his other hand around my back and helped me to his stool.
“I thought you were going to fall right on your ass,” he said.
“Me too,” I replied.
My protector reached behind me to turn down the volume on the radio.
He hovered over me.
I wasn’t sure what he was thinking.
“Why are you here so late?” he asked.
Telling the truth would have been too embarrassing.
“I had to drop off my car insurance policy along with a check. It’s due at midnight. The agent said if I could get it here, tonight, my insurance wouldn’t lapse.”
“Bullshit,” said the janitor, “There aren’t any insurance companies here. You got the wrong floor?”
“No, I don’t have the wrong floor,” I stammered.
“So why are you here?” he asked again.
I opted for the truth this time.
“A job. I don’t have a job. I came here because I have an interview in suite 800 first thing tomorrow morning. I wanted to do a trial run so I wouldn’t be late. I can’t afford to screw this up.”
“Did you find it? You okay now?” he asked as he took a step back.
“I’m fine. Sorry for the stumble back there. I hope I didn’t mess up your floor.”
“Have you been out of work long?” he asked.
“Long enough. My savings are almost gone – and so is the house. And I’m afraid my wife -” I answered.
The janitor picked up the thermos cap and took a sip of coffee.
Returning the cap to the floor, he turned the radio’s volume back to its previous level and then walked back to the buffer.
He had work to do.
I stood and tested the floor before taking the first step.
Careful not to fall this time, I walked to the opposite end of the hall and to the staircase.
The walk down would clear my mind.
As I approach the exit sign, I heard his voice.
It was deep, rich and full of harmony.
The sound was soothing and I wanted to hear more.
I moved toward him to take in his music.
“You forget something?” he asked.
“No. I just wanted to listen. You sound amazing.” I told him.
“You better get home. You don’t want to be late in the morning.”
He continued the buffing.
I turned to leave.
Just as I was pushing the staircase door open, I heard his voice again.
This time it was directed to me.
“Look at there,” he said pointing to the window. “What do you see?”
“I see other buildings.”
“What else?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It’s too dark. I can’t see much else,” I answered.
“I see hope,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Hope?” I asked.
I peered through the widow again.
I was tired. I just wanted to leave and get home.
“I haven’t always been a janitor,” he said.
Turning back to him, I asked, “What have you been, then?”
This was not the word I was expecting.
“We can hold on to what we think we should have or accept what we have been given. When we realize that, the unhappiness goes away,” he said.
Why was he telling me this?
“But I need a job,” was all I could think to say. “And I don’t want to settle for just any job. I want a job that pays well.”
“What else are you looking for?” he asked, but I could tell he already knew the answer.
“Respect,” was the first word that came up.
“Respect for who? You?” he asked.
“Yes. Me. Especially respect from my wife.” I answered.
He paused and allowed my words to fill the space between for us for a moment.
“Then don’t settle for a job you don’t want,” he told me. “Your life might not be where you want it right now. But it’ll change.”
Intrigued by what the janitor was saying, I didn’t say a word so he would continue.
“I work here about every night cleaning toilets and emptying trash cans so I can sing. This is my personal rehearsal studio. The lights from the other buildings create a spotlight just for me.” He pointed to the lights beaming through the window over his stool. “This place gives me hope. I may not always buff these floors, but I will always sing. And where I sing next is up to me.”
The janitor started the buffer before I could reply.
It was time for me to go now.
His work was not finished and I was keeping him from it.
The chilly night air greeted me as I stepped outside.
I found my car and started home.
Driving home, I recalled his beautiful voice and allowed his words to settle in my heart.
I made a pact with myself.
If the job interview doesn’t go well tomorrow I will start my book.
An overnight job at a gas station or convenience store would give me the time to write.
I could feel the self respect begin to come alive in me.
The confidence made me feel giddy.
I had no idea doubt weighed so much.
Releasing the doubt made me feel lighter, courageous and free.
What happens next is up to me.
Finding some solid footing felt good for a change.
Learning what hope really means felt even better.