The following is a true story:
In my school there is a short black man named John who works as our janitor. John (and I don’t think this is his real name) came to Israel from a country in Northern Africa to pursue a livelihood. He scrubs the toilets, mops the floors, and picks up the trash. He even plants flowers around the campus -all with a big SMILE on his face.
One particularly grey and gloomy day, I walked outside my dorm room as John was mopping the floor in the hallway. I stood there for a moment and watched as he tediously swung the mop back and forth. The night before, some kids had gone to a tie-dye party and brought supplies back for some late night fun. Hanging on a line from one room to the other across the hall were shirts, pants, boxers, and socks with all types psychedelic designs on them. Below, the floor was covered in all sorts of different colored paints. John turned to me with a big SMILE and in broken English asked “They. color. clothing?” I laughed and confirmed that they had indeed been coloring their clothing but I had no part in it. John shrugged and with a SMILE turned to continue mopping. Not in the greatest of moods, I tried to compose myself for a challenging day. I walked down the clean hallway and just as I was heading out the door I turned to him and asked “John, how the hell are you so HAPPY all the time?” He looked up and with a big SMILE responded “Whaahtt?”Recognizing the language barrier I approached him and said animatedly “SMILE, big SMILE!” “Ahh!” he replied “Yes. Always – that’s how. It’s done.” He finished and stood there, noticeably proud of himself, nodding and SMILING.
Feeling encouraged, I continued my day with a bright outlook and a SMILE to the day’s challenges. The days went on and when I would see John I’d wave or say hi to him. Whether I would see him cleaning up after meals or planting flowers along the walkway between buildings, I was greeted with a SMILE. I was soon getting a daily dose of inspiration from a Sudanese man who hardly spoke English. Night and day, rain or shine, this guy always had a POSITIVE atmosphere. It was truly inspiring.
The other day the unfortunate and terrifying news had spread around that John’s 17 year-old brother, en route to Israel, had been captured by terrorists and is currently being held hostage. At lunch, this was the topic of conversation and when John walked in a hush fell over the cafeteria. As he walked by, John showed no signs of negative emotion which caused someone to ask rhetorically “How did he come to work today??” I walked into the kitchen to get something and was greeting with the same SMILE as everyday like nothing had happened! I was floored. How does someone go through that and continue on with his chores like any other day? I approached John later that day and asked him about what I had heard. I spent some time with him as he struggled to find the right words in English. He confirmed the story and told me the terrorist group had been given a sum of money but had sold his brother to another group which now demanded $36,000! He said the group had called him the other day and threatened that if they didn’t receive the money they would kill the boy. He continued on about how he had warned his younger brother not to try and come to Israel because of the danger in the surrounding areas and his fears had come true. It was hard for me to keep my composure just listening to him tell me the story. What really got me was how optimistic he was. He explained it was impossible for his family to pay that amount but his plan was to get friends in America to help him. “The rest,” he said as he pointed to the ceiling, “Is God”. John shrugged and with a SMILE, he turned and continued on his way.
I don’t know what will be of John’s brother, but I hope for the best. What I do know is that John’s determination, despite his terrible situation, to keep a positive attitude and take care of him-self and his responsibilities is truly admirable. If I had gotten any inspiration from John before, it’s doubled. I don’t know where he gets the strength to be so positive and optimistic but if he can do it, I can.