I was a mess in college.
Two years before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was enrolled at a university in New York with somewhat of a life trajectory, a moral compass, and many good qualities.
Nevertheless, I drown myself in alcohol, drugs, sex, schoolwork, prestige, pomp, circumstance – anything to quiet my harsh inner critic.
There were glimpses of sanity in those times, though. I vividly remember the conversations I had with a janitor who cleaned my dorm. For the life of me, I can’t remember his name. But every time we talked, it shut down that inner critic and, in a strange way, made me feel loved.
I’d smoke cigarettes in the courtyard, and we’d chat. He’d tell me how good his life was and 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 like me? 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 God’s grace, I got sober soon after I graduated college – though I escaped some scary situations.
I also was diagnosed with bipolar 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 his 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 every day and talked to wayward college kids like me.
I thank God for him. People like him – people who didn’t talk about spirituality but lived it and breathed it – kept me going when I strayed down the wrong path until, finally, I found something resembling peace.