Each weekday morning Joe was out in front of the hotel, sweeping up paper bits with the intensity and drive of a warrior. Despite his remarkable work ethic, though, he was never too busy to smile at anyone who walked by. He had one of those faces that was heavily creased by time but lit from the heart. Now and then, some of us began stopping to chat with him; the smile drew us in.
He was from Latvia, he told us; he had emigrated to the United States in his 30s and still spoke in a heavily accented English. Then in his 50s, Joe was proud and grateful to be an American, and seemed delighted with everyone he met. Actually, it went further than that: he was delighted with life, period.
I remember one morning a couple of us passed by in a grumpy mood; we'd been complaining about our jobs. Both of us worked in glossy corporate offices and earned handsome salaries for our endeavors; it didn't stop us, though, from holding grievances about this or that detail in office life.
When we reached Joe and his broom, we stopped to say Hi. Joe threw us one of his innocent, wide open grins, and wished us a good morning. My friend said, "Joe, don't you ever get tired of sweeping up this sidewalk?"
"Oh, no!" said Joe. "It makes me feel good to see it all clean."
"Ahh." said my friend, feeling small. "Yes, I can see that must be satisfying."
"The people I meet are wonderful." continued Joe. "Everyone stops to say hello. It is a very nice job."
"Yes." we said.
But Joe wasn't finished. "My boss is so good to me!" he said, "I have not only this nice job and good pay, but every single week -- the boss gives me a two day vacation!" And he threw open his arms in a sweeping gesture of amazement.
We stared at him for a moment, and then waved good-bye and walked on. Both of us were silent; we were busy absorbing Joe and his goodness.
I was a different person when I arrived at the office that day. I felt grateful, I felt ashamed, I was ready to look at life in a new way. Seated at my desk, I looked around at the familiar paper piles and felt a new fondness for them all. The more I thought about the conversation on the street, the more I was certain that Joe was a mystic: larger and more visionary than all the rest of us upscale, educated types put together.
And, you know, I was right.