Lessons from a street sweeper

Lessons can be learned from every experience and from every memory.

My mother used to tell me when I was 7 years old “Nathan, watch that man”. She was referring to the street sweeper, a man with a broom and cart who would clean our street every week for years. “Watch that man and tell me about his job and if he likes his job or not”. I would watch him from the warmth of our living room window, looking for what it was my mother was expecting me to observe. It took me two visits to that window, observing that street cleaner before I saw what she wanted me to see. That lesson she so wanted me to learn, the lesson that has stayed with me.

The street cleaner had a heavy overalls and what we would call a high visibility jacket now but in those days it was less high visibility and more ‘ just visible’ under the grime and dirt. He was about 40 years old with thick dark hair and always wearing gloves. He pushed a cart which was ostensibly a bin on wheels. The tools of his trade were a broom and dust pan, his broom moved with a grace not associated with the task it was used for. He moved around the street with that broom like he had not a care in the world, he whistled, he joked and took such pride in his work.

My mother explained to me that the man who cleaned our streets has a poise, a self respect, a pride in his work which few show in far loftier assignments. He treated his job like it was the most important task anyone can ever do. That makes him far richer than anyone in this town or any other town. She then said, “Everything you do in life, no matter big or small, it is an opportunity to do your best, to take pride in your work and never treat a job as below you” I have taken that lesson and tried to live it since that day. If I have a project no matter how simple or basic it is, I do it with my full attention and care.

I long to do great and noble tasks, but for now my chief duty is to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble

Helen Keller

No task is too small or too low for anyone, the only thing too low is failing to give your best. I leave you now with a poem I discovered years ago, it is called Judgement:

Before God's footstool to confess 
A poor soul knelt, and bowed his head;
“I failed,” he cried. The Master said,
“Thou didst thy best—that is success!”

Published by NCS

reader of great literature, teller of tales, photographer of mostly awful snaps but on occasion I am half decent.

One thought on “Lessons from a street sweeper

  1. I loved the way you described how you described passion, in every and any work we do, and should always give our best. Leaves me with great determination and highly rejuvenated to carry about my tasks!


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