Influences pt. 3, The Janitor

This is part of a series…  the other ones can be found by clicking on “influences” in categories  over there—>

We seldom notice the servants in the background.  We have little time or patience to address them and we almost never look them in the eye.  Watch…  Next time you’re at a restaurant, count how many times the people you’re with look the waiter in the eyes.  You’ll be shocked.  If you’re really sharp you’ll be able to note how many times you did not see the waiter refill your drink.

I remember the announcement over the PA system in my Jr. High School English class.  I sat in a wooden desk that had the table top attached to the chair in such a way that it was the most uncomfortable chair in the world.  You know what I mean?  The chair was a hard wooden seat with straight back and a sweeping table top that came from the back right to provide an arm rest and swept in front of you.  The table could only accommodate half a sheet of paper and your wrist.  Yet we always found a way to prop our faces up and pretend to be taking notes while we tried to sleep.  There was really only enough room for your body to sit half-perched on the chair while you clung to the table top for fear of falling out.

Anyhow, the principle came over the loud speaker announcing that my friend had past away the day before.  The school was in an odd state of shock.  Everyone knew what had happened, we had all heard the details about his suicide, but somehow announcing it over the PA made many of us break.  The School announced that they would have consolers for anyone who wanted to talk in the auditorium.  I remember excusing myself from the class and walking down the long hall amidst sobbing students.  To be honest, I wasn’t incredibly tearful, I just knew that I needed to be able to process this and I couldn’t listen to Mrs. Serrette talk about Of Mice of Men while I struggled to keep it together.

I walked into the dark auditorium and sat in one of the hard chairs for about an hour.  I can remember seeing some of my friends around me and talking with someone for a moment.  But mostly I just sat there.  I stood to go and had difficulty finding my legs as I stood.  Half way down the hall on the way back to my class, I had to stop and cover my face because I was crying.  I looked down and faced a locker so people would think I was just getting something out of my locker.

“You afraid of death, boy?”  I heard the voice and stood motionless waiting to hear another address.  “I said, you afraid of death?”

I looked up to see a school janitor standing about 2 feet from me leaning against some lockers.  I sheepishly responded, “Isn’t everyone afraid of dying?”

“Not you.”  He replied.  “You’re a believer.”

It wasn’t miraculous that he would know that.  My brother and I were white athletes (using the term loosely) in a predominantly African American school and when Jeff went to college, I took over the Bible club that he had started.  We were fiercely evangelical, faithfully proclaiming our belief in Jesus, and constantly asking people to come to church with us.  Not to mention the Christian t-shirt I was probably wearing along with bible verses written all over my shoes and backpack… and it’s highly likely that I was holding a Bible.

I was confused and I said, “my friend just past away alright!”  As if defending my right to cry.

“Believers don’t morn like the world, boy.”  He told me.  “Now you stand up and tell these people ‘bout it!  You tell them why you don’t need to fear death, and neither do they if they trust Him.”  He chided in a low tone.  Then he went off to be unnoticed again.

That encounter with the janitor has forever changed the way I handle things.  The janitor was right.  He was gruff and maybe a bit out of place, that is for certain, but… he was right.  Christians don’t morn the way the world does, because Christians have a hope that no one can take away.  With such a hope, what can ever overcome.  Indeed, nothing can overcome the soul of a believer (I John 5:1-5).  We may be pressed, but we are not crushed, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4…  please no comments about context.  I know, I know.)  This hope we have does not put to shame. (Rom.15, 2 Corinthians 3)  It is the most powerful asset in a Christian’s response to the circumstances of this world.  It is for resurrection (I Corinthians 15).  We do not end here.  This is just a training ground.

Sorry I went all preacher on you just then.  Back to the story:  Because of that nameless janitor, I am always reminded that trial, tragedy, and evil in this life cannot overcome what we have.  Since that day I have faced the death of many friends and family members and I have never forgotten that we are not without the hope of Salvation (a sure hope that does not disappoint) and every circumstance, good or bad, is an opportunity to be reminded of that.   I don’t think I ever noticed that janitor again.  But for that one time, I’ll never forget what he said.