I was a mess in college.
Two years before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had found myself at an expensive liberal arts university in Long Island, New York, with somewhat of a trajectory for life, and a moral compass, and many good qualities and strengths.
Nevertheless, I drown myself in alcohol, drugs, sex, school work, prestige, pomp, circumstance – anything to quiet the inner voice that sounded like an axe murderer who was chasing me through my head.
There were glimpses of sanity in those times.
The ones I remember most vividly were the conversations I had with the janitor who cleaned my dorm room.
For the life of me, I can’t remember his name. But every time we talked it shut down that inner voice and, in a strange way, made me feel loved.
I would smoke cigarettes in the courtyard, and we’d chat. He’d tell me how good his life was, about his son who was also entering college.
My roommate, Chris, and I loved him.
Chris became my confidant at school, and we shared deep secrets with each other. We also fought and argued, we both seemed jealous of each other, and I tortured him to make myself feel better.
But I’ll always remember the time Chris came to me and told me what the janitor had said, and I’m paraphrasing: “I have a great wife, kids, a great job: What more could I want in life?”
A part of me was shocked by this statement.
I was in school, dreaming of winning awards as a newspaper reporter, conquering the world, and here this janitor – a janitor of all things! – was talking about how great his life was.
Didn’t he know he was a janitor? Didn’t he know his job was to clean up after the messes of spoiled college kids?
Why wasn’t he jaded and cynical like everyone else I knew? Why wasn’t he complaining about his job? Why wasn’t he complaining about me?
It just didn’t add up in my secular worldview at that time.
As the years go by, I think about that janitor every so often. By the grace of God, I got sober soon after I graduated college – though I escaped some scary situations where my alcoholism took me to dark places.
I also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began taking medication, which has helped me stay relatively stable for the past decade – even though managing the condition can be quite the challenge.
I began seeing a spiritual director a few years back, and he mentioned to me once the idea of, “everyday saints.”
In both of our words, those are the people – like the janitor – who you feel good to be around. The everyday people in the sea of faces whose conversations stick with you, because they ask how you’re doing, and they mean it.
During my recovery, I’ve tried to practice humility as best as I can. When I think of humility, I think of that janitor, smiling and singing while he cleaned toilets everyday and talked to wayward college kids like me.
I also thank God for him – it was people like him, the people who didn’t talk about spirituality but lived it and breathed it, that kept me going when I strayed down the wrong path until, finally, I found something resembling peace.