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The Caretaker

The Caretaker


My home backs onto a small elementary school. I love to watch for the first signs of activity each morning as I busy myself in my kitchen, which overlooks the sprawling grounds. I survey the children scurrying along as they line up to enter the building. Several moments later, the few latecomers will straggle in.

In the afternoons, my youngest son and I will spy on the children at recess, playing ball games or climbing the bars. In the winter, they'll frolic in the snow, and in the spring, boisterous boys will splash in the puddles.

Later, we'll watch the building empty as the children run off to the waiting cars of parents or caregivers. The yard then becomes silent and desolate.

One figure, however, always remains.

The school caretaker will arrive in the early hours of dawn, just as my morning coffee begins to percolate. Soon I'll see him working in the yard, picking up papers. On snowy, blistery mornings, he'll be bundled in his bulky snowsuit, pushing the large snow-blowing machine back and forth along the winding walkways. Then, he'll lift his heavy shovel to reach the narrower crevices that his machine has overlooked.

The caretaker is still there at the end of the day, long after the children have departed. In the spring, he'll haul his oversized, green garbage bag, picking up the tossed candy wrappers and miscellaneous papers that never reached their proper destination. He'll empty the many trash bins placed throughout the large campus and tend to the overgrown grass.

Often, when I peek through my window's shutters, long after it has grown dark outdoors, I'll again observe his familiar figure. Lights throughout the building will systematically switch on, as his tall frame treks from room to room carrying his mop and pail.

Sometimes, even late at night, I'll spot him locking up and firmly securing all the building's doors and windows.

I wonder if the school children pay any attention to their unobtrusive caretaker.

When they scuttle across the clean walkway, do they stop to consider how many hours it took to clear it? As they carelessly toss their wrappers, do they pay heed to how yesterday's have miraculously disappeared? As they track mud across the school's hallways, do they remember how the floors once gleamed?

Do they greet their devoted caretaker with a smile in the morning? Do they know his name? Do they wave goodbye as they rush to the waiting cars in the afternoon?

I doubt they give him much notice or gratitude. To be honest, I have almost no recollection of the caretakers of the schools I attended.

But from the corner of my kitchen window, I can see him, day and night, watching, caring and maintaining.

Every day. All day.

Making sure "his" children won't trip over their own carelessness, opening up doors for them and minding their many needs, with pride and quiet diligence.

Observing the unknown caretaker's assiduous work, day in, day out, makes me wonder how often we give proper recognition to the sometimes invisible, but nevertheless essential, people in our lives.

Moreover, I wonder, how often do we take a moment to recognize, appreciate and properly acknowledge and greet the invisible Caretaker of our world?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Illustration by Yudit Blesofsky
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David England August 3, 2004

the Caretaker Well, as a school caretaker, your article certainly hits the spot! Thankfully, most of the children at "my" school know me and know some of what I do for them.

If I may, for other caretakers, custodians and site managers, a recommended site to visit is where they will find forums catering specificially for us with jobs, news and hints and tips. All made welcome.

Obviously, I have been blessed, by the big guy in the sky, for my school and surrounds, are surely blessed. Reply

Adam Neira Melbourne, Great Southern Land June 9, 2004

Job Advertisement : Temple Mount Caretaker The Temple Mount needs a caretaker at the moment. It is looking a bit "worse for wear" don't you think ? The site has such unrealised potential... Reply

Robert B Godwin Olympia, WA June 8, 2004

The Caretaker While your commentary obviously was directed to our appreciation of HaShem, the Supreme Caretaker, this particular piece was personal.

My daughter and her husband are elementary school custodians in different districts.

Almost all of the students know my son-in-law, and are careful to keep the school and grounds relatively clean. His school has been selected as the cleanest in the school district almost every year.

Her husband also worked with his two daughters on a night job when they were in high school, cleaning a commercial office building for their spending money. No allowance for them!

Back in the late Forties, I worked my way through religious high school as an after-school janitor to pay the tuition, and well-remember the two custodians working days and weekends.

When people remark how clean a restaurant is, I tell them they should be grateful to the unseen worker who comes in at 2:00 am to clean up after them. Reply

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