This morning I went for an informal interview for a job as a cleaner. The company is Zenith Cleaning. A friend recently recommended it to me as an organization befitting my ideals. The man who started Zenith is a most fascinating person. He goes by Tolu. We sat in the upstairs kitchen of Zenith’s office and talked about life. The mood was casual from the get-go. It was unlike any job interview I have ever had (not that I have had all that many…). We talked a lot about forgiveness and gratitude. We talked about presence. We talked about ideals and truly embodying the act of cleaning, treating it as a foundation for any other kind of work or play. Tolu smilingly referred to Zenith as “a metaphorical enterprise”. Clearly, for him, being in tune with the people he works with is far more important than any sort of ‘relevant work experience’. We got on quite well and ended up chatting for about an hour (likely a bit more), punctuated by a few phone calls he had to take.
Our visit ignited a lot of thoughts and feelings about cleaning, especially about how our world sees cleaners. It seems that many in our society consider cleaning a very ‘low’ position. I can see how this idea has spread, having long been drilled with notions of social standing. But the ‘social ladder’ we live with is not nearly as important, nor even as real, as many of us take it to be. The more I think about cleaning the more confounded I am that so many look down upon the work (and worse, upon the workers) as beneath them. It seems crazy. I see it as an honourable job. Cleaning is making things better. It’s very simple.
We spoke this morning of how cleaning is basically removing obstacles, revealing the inherent beauty of a given object, or space. In this way, it aligns nicely with the meditative frame that I have come to appreciate over the past few years. I see many ways this sort of work might better equip one for deeper service. The idea of developing one’s humility and capacity for service feels honourable. Thinking back over my life, picturing many ‘cleaners’ I have come in contact with – whether in schools, churches, homes or elsewhere – I see the quiet dignity of the work. Doing jobs that some have come to see as ‘dirty’ and ‘undesirable’ may in fact be of deep value. They may well be sources of enrichment. Tolu spoke at length about ‘cleaning the cleaner’, describing some of the spontaneous and surprising ways in which this work often benefits the worker. We talked also about the value of deep cleaning, distinguishing it from organizing or merely ‘staging’ a space. We acknowledged that we, as people, still do an awful lot of ‘staging’.
As we sat and spoke it suddenly struck me how vital the world’s custodians are. ‘Custodian’ is a title full of honour, even if many today have come to see it as something less than dignified. Custodians have been given custody. To be a custodian is to guard and protect, even to usher others safely through a given space. I can think of several custodians I know who embody their work and their role, embracing being a cleaner and showing the honour and dignity of service. I find it inspiring.
As the ‘interview’ went on, wandering off on various philosophical and spiritual tangents, we always brought it back to the simplicity of cleaning. With all that lofty talk, Tolu mentioned, some may forget to scrub the floor with sufficient vigour. We must stay in touch with the work itself. Other practical matters like money and schedules emerged only peripherally in our conversation, popping up long after we had already covered everything from scripture to physics. We agreed that we would work well together. Without setting any firm timeline we agreed to be in touch soon to see how I may be of service. Tolu had not necessarily been looking to hire anyone at the moment but he mentioned that new jobs and projects are popping up regularly. An opportunity is likely to open up just around the corner.
In the meantime, I am being more forthcoming with my gratitude for the wonderful cleaners in my life. I encourage you to do the same. They are all over our towns and cities – found in every building, most parks, and on our streets and sidewalks – and it is easy enough to thank them in passing. Try it out! I trust you will be glad you did. After making a few of these human connections, we may even feel like cleaning up after ourselves a bit more. Imagine if this idea spread… What a world we could be sharing… Custodians working together.