Deep Thoughts by The Wise Janitor
Cleaning up after other people day in and day out is an exercise in futility and patience. Every day you vacuum the floor, wipe down the tables, wash the windows, change the toilet paper and whatever else. You take a building that looks like it’s been through the apocalypse and you make it look brand new. Then, by the time the sun sets it looks exactly like it did before you sacrificed an infinitely valuable, irreplaceable day in your life cleaning it. So the next day you clean it again only to have your masterpiece reduced to kipple again. Then you clean it again, and again, and again, but no matter how many times you clean it you never get ahead. You never reach a plateau where you can sit back and relax and bask in the fruits of your labour. You just watch in constant horror as all the work you’ve done the previous day becomes undone.
Not that the janitor is complaining. Everyone else’s inability to clean up after themselves means the janitor has as good of job security as the undertaker. Like the undertaker the janitor’s job places him at the fringe of society. He’s someone nobody notices until they have to. But unlike the undertaker the janitor doesn’t have fancy credentials to impress people with and earn their respect. So the janitor stands on the fringe even when he’s in the middle of a crowd. He watches all the respectable, credentialized folk run past him on their way to important places where they’re going to do very important things…or so they believe.
Looking up the social ladder from the perspective of a janitor you see that the more credentials a person has the more important they believe they and their work are. And sure, they make wheels turn, but on a long enough time scale there’s no difference between what they do and what their janitor does. No matter what job you have the end result is making someone else’s life better in exchange for money. The thing about that is, within 100 years everyone who benefited from your work will be dead. Even if you do something that affects people for generations, a day will come when the ripple effects of your labour come to an end. In a few trillion years the universe will cool and expand until there’s not enough heat left to keep any atoms vibrating. Then, when every atom in the universe has cooled to absolute zero the history of the universe as we know it will end. So everyone’s job is just as futile as the janitor’s. We’re all just rearranging kipple until our time runs out.
The janitor stands in the middle of a crowd obscured by his social status watching all the people around him swarm past him in fast forward with their faces glued to their phones and watches stressing over the tasks lined up in front of them. Compared to a janitor, their burdens are heavy….usually too heavy. The average worker is crushed under stress and anxiety, and no quality of suit or neck tie or panty hose or lipstick can hide stress lines on their faces. The janitor would have sympathy for those marathon workers…if they didn’t make messes everywhere they went and didn’t pay him less than a living wage to clean up after them.
But the point isn’t to get into a dick waving competition. In a trillion years it won’t matter who’s right about what or who is better than who. The point is that no matter what we do it’s all just dust in the wind. If you can do something better for humanity than sweeping up after it then…good. But no matter what you do, if you’re stressing out over it to the point of anxiety then you’re defeating the purpose. Life isn’t what happens tomorrow. Life isn’t a place you arrive at. Life is what happens today. Life is here and now. If you’re stressing yourself out in the name of work then you’re failing at life. You might be better off just emptying garbage cans and replacing toilet paper at a leisurely pace…except of course that being a janitor doesn’t pay a living wage because civilized, credentialized society doesn’t care about the human beings who clean up after them. Of course, on a long enough time scale that little oversight won’t matter, but if it’s important to do those big jobs that make life better for everyone then why undermine the virtue of your work by neglecting the needs of the people who clean up after you? If you won’t take care of the people who take care of you then how much do you really deserve to pat yourself on the back for the work you do?
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Originally published at thewisesloth.com on April 13, 2013.