With Christmas just days away, I should have been excited, but I wasn’t. The part-time job I had during my senior year kept me in a miserable mood much of the time. I was a custodian for my church. I disliked getting up on Saturday mornings while my friends slept in. I despised the ugly, drab, gray shirt that had my name stitched above one pocket.
Most of all, I hated the work. It was dirty and messy, and it seemed like people were always calling me to do things they didn’t want to do. “Gwen, sweep up this mess!” “Gwen, put this away!”
What made things even worse on this particular Saturday was that I had to clean a room where a bunch of little kids had spent the night. The church had held an all-night party for several children of needy families in our community. They’d left about an hour ago—leaving behind one big mess for me to clean up.
As I swept and scrubbed, I felt a cold draft coming from the hallway. I put down my cleaning materials and followed the chilly breeze to one of the outside doors. A window had been broken and shards of glass were scattered across the linoleum floor. As I sighed over yet another job to do, the adult in charge of the overnight party walked up. He looked at me, shook his head and said, “One of the children did it. He broke it so he could unlock the door. I’m really sorry . …” The sound of his voice faded as I thought, I can’t believe some kid broke the window! How irresponsible! How disrespectful of the church’s property!
With anger mounting inside, I found a cardboard box and began picking up the sharp, jagged pieces. That’s when I spotted a small, grubby hand reaching through the broken window. I looked more closely and saw the head and shoulders of a chubby-faced boy about 8 or 9 years old. His expression was mean and defiant.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Get in here!”
For some reason, and in spite of his defiant look, he obeyed.
“Did you break this window? I don’t even have to ask, do I? What made you do such a stupid thing?”
“My mom was s’posed to come get me,” he answered. “But she never came, and I wanted back in.”
“Didn’t anyone ever teach you that you don’t break a window when you want inside? You knock until someone comes.”
“I knocked but no one came,” he replied. “It was cold outside.”
“That’s no excuse. Breaking a window is wrong.”
Finishing my lecture, I grabbed the cardboard box, turned and walked out of the room, leaving the boy standing by himself.
As I stomped back toward the janitor’s closet, I began thinking over what had just happened. I thought about the little boy with the defiant face. I thought about the bitter wind that whipped through the broken window. I thought about the thin jacket the boy wore. I thought about how desperate he must have been to get out of the cold—desperate enough to risk cutting himself on the broken window. And I thought about the needy, impoverished families who had sent their children to the overnight program.