Lonnie and the Trash Can

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Derek Gavey broom square

“I’m gettin’ older, Daddy. It’s time to start figurin’ out the rest of my life.”

Such was what my son said last Thursday. He’s eight going on twenty-one. Given to pondering heavy stuff. Lover of dirt and dust and all manner of nastiness. Looking back now, I suppose that’s why he confessed exactly what sort of life he’d been figuring on.

My son—my very bright, very talented, very capable fruit of my loins—wants to be a janitor when he grows up.

Saying No way, not my boy felt a little too mean. After all, someone has to be the janitor. If God can call people to be doctors and presidents, why can’t He call people to sweep floors? True enough. And yet saying Atta boy, dream big! felt a little too disingenuous. So I did what I usually do when confronted with one of those fatherly problems that seem unsolvable. I rubbed his head, said nothing, and drove to work.

My day job is the sort of place that requires routine. In order for things to go smoothly and well, I must do this at this time and that at another. It’s by no means glamorous, but it suits me. I know what’s coming when I go to work. You don’t always get that in life.

But that day it all fell apart from the beginning, and it was all because there wasn’t a bag in the trashcan.

There always had been before—a dozen in fact, each of them knotted tight against the side. I’d never given much thought to them. I suppose in a certain way I simply believed the bag of empty coffee cups and toothpicks I tossed in the dumpster on my way out every evening was replaced every morning with a kind of magic. And yet I sat there in my chair, staring at that plain steel can, and I realized that the bags I took out hadn’t been replaced at all. Not for over two weeks.

It bugged me. It bugged me even more when I rooted through the closet and found the thick roll of replacements, proof that there was no sudden trash bag shortage. And it bugged me even more than that when it took nearly twenty minutes (yes, I’m serious) to figure out how to pry the bag apart to put it in the can. The knot I made didn’t work, either.

I didn’t complain. I got no one in trouble. I was too busy thinking about my son. Him and the unknown janitor that cleaned my office every morning.

Turns out, his name is Lonnie. Husband to Angela, father to Lisa, David, and Lonnie, Jr. He’s a deacon at his local church and an umpire for the local Little League. Last year, he bowled a 270 at the alley in town.

He’s worked alongside me for six years without my knowing, arriving early to do his emptying and sweeping and leaving before I get there. Turns out, he’s been sick for the past two weeks. Blood pressure. His replacement did a fine job, but he didn’t know about the trash bags in the can by my desk.

I’m humbled by all this. Lonnie has taught me much. Not the least of which is this: If God wants my son to grow up to push a broom and fill trash bags, then maybe that’s fine. No job is without dignity when it allows you to build a life by taking care of the little things.

Image by Derek Gavey. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Billy Coffey, author of When Mockingbirds Sing (to be released June 2013).