The Cleaning Lady’s Name
The routine and predictable do not surprise us. The serendipitous always is a surprise. I like the word, serendipity, because it normally is a good surprise. If we were to hear a doctor tell us we have cancer, that would not be serendipity---but it is surprising bad news. I recently had a serendipitous moment. A good friend of mine said she had a book for me. While I did not expect something like this from her, it still was not that unusual.
Soon I was handed a book. I looked at it and recognized it immediately when I saw the title, The Winners Manual. I had heard about it, but I am not sure I had actually seen it. The book is by Jim Tressel. For the people around my university, this is a well-known and even famous name. All the coaches here have the book. And I now have it. I now have an autographed copy, which even has a personal note to me. Some would consider me incredibly lucky. I am grateful. I am grateful to two people. I thank Jim and I really appreciate my friend.
A person---even Jim Tressel---is never just one thing; life is too complicated to be that simple. To many people, Jim is best known as the former coach of The Ohio State football team---national champions, to be sure. Most folks in the state of Ohio know this. Many others know him as the President of Youngstown State University, where he once was the football coach and was leader of a national championship team at a lower level. Fewer know him as a graduate of my own institution where I teach. Here he was a football player and quarterback. But if you know him, you know he is far too small ever to have played beyond the small college level. To others he is a brother, a father and for many, a man of faith. Jim Tressel is, like all of us, a complex person.
I have begun to thumb through the book. After all, it is a gift and gifts are meant to be relished. I want to relish it over time. The sub-title of the book is “For the Game of Life.” He has written a winner’s manual for the game of life. Obviously, it is about football, but it is more than football. I have not thumbed through too much yet, but a little story jumped out at me and I want to share it.
The story appears in Tressel’s chapter on “Love.” It has the benign title, “Her Name was Dorothy.” I did not expect much when I began to read the brief snippet. It begins by saying, “During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz.” The narrative goes on with the student claiming to be more than ready for this test and breezed through it. Then came this question---the last one. “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” I laughed and you have laughed too, if you paid attention to the title of this inspirational piece.
The student thought at first thought it must be a joke. The student continues: “I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired, and in her fifties, but how would I know her name?” I was touched by this sentence. It is a challenge to me and, likely, to many of us. What is the cleaning lady’s name? Or what is the lady’s name who sells me the coffee each morning? Who are all those people in our lives who make our lives better. Who are the silent servants to our sometimes whimsical desires? Like the student taking the test, we hand in the exam with the last question left blank. We simply don’t know.
And we never stop to think it might matter. Too many times I have been too uninterested to bother getting to know. And sadly, I have probably even been dismissive. To be dismissive is even worse than not caring. As I write this, I am anticipating where the little story of Dorothy is going.
We jump back into the story only to hear, “Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.” The professor retorted, “Absolutely.” The professor continued the lesson in life. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say, ‘Hello.’” And then the short story concludes with the clincher. The student says, “I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.”
It is easy to see this story both at the literal level and analogously at the spiritual level. At the literal level, it is a great lesson to learn and practice. I want to do better at this literal level. And then, at the spiritual level there is much to learn. The story is one I can imagine Jesus telling. Pay attention. Love! No wonder Jim Tressel put this story in the Love chapter. If I am spiritually aware, I can come to see every person in my life embodying the image of God and potentially bearing that image with the dignity of a child of God. I can help this process and certainly need the loving help from others.
I don’t know the cleaning lady’s name at my college. She is there sometime in the night. But there are countless other “cleaning ladies” I do see who deserve my attention and care.