Travis was no ordinary man. He was tall, handsome, intelligent and sensitive, with kindly eyes and knobbly knees. That all sounds fairly ordinary, but you need to look further than that to find out what was so extraordinary about him. No, he didn’t have superhero powers. No, he wasn’t a secret scientific genius. No, he didn’t make wedding dresses from bin liners or manage to complete the world’s most difficult crossword in the shortest time. But he was definitely extraordinary.
You see, Travis was a school caretaker, and had been one for the last fifteen years. He was good at it, unlocking and locking gates, organising the playground and carrying out essential maintenance.
He worked hard, he was cheerful, and he was well loved by staff and children alike…
But the job was just a cover: a cover for his real skill. Travis was the Guru Caretaker.
If a child was in trouble, they went to Travis. If a teacher was upset, they went to Travis. When the head mistress was stressed and trying to determine which decision to make, she went to Travis.
Travis didn’t know everything, and he couldn’t advise on anything, but he did have skills, and they weren’t just screwdriver-related. He could listen, for a start. And he didn’t tell other peoples’ secrets. He loved animals and hugged them whenever he could. He shooed away tears too.
But, as is often the case with caretakers, he was often forgotten. He wasn’t on the frontline of teaching, and he didn’t make the headlines in the school newsletter. Never did they write ‘Caretaker mends chair then carries injured child to first aid box’, but that was fine by him. Travis liked the quiet. He liked the calm of this job.
Could you guess what Travis used to do? Before he began the job he was born to? He used to work in an office, in charge of twenty people. He used to get up each weekday morning and put on his suit and tie, and get on the train to the biggest city imaginable, with big crowds of other workers, and then come home again eight hours later. He was miserable and he was lonely. But the Guru Caretaker was already being born. He would be the man who could turn his hand to almost anything. He would be the man who was trustworthy and reliable and never stressed. He would be the man he was longing to be: the man he was born to be: the man he was going to be.
So, he told the people he used to work with in the biggest city imaginable, that he was taking a break from his job. They asked how long. ‘Forever,’ he said. The caretaker job was there, almost magically waiting for him, and that was fifteen happy, satisfied years ago.
I’m telling you this story not because Travis is the best caretaker ever, but because of how he helped a young boy I know. You see, I walk my dog, Englebert, on the fields next to the school, and I usually walk right past when Travis is unlocking the gates. We usually say a cheery hello and sometimes talk more, but one day was different. I was walking later than usual, and Travis had almost finished his work. He got talking to Englebert and patting him on the head. Englebert loved that. I said goodbye and walked to the shops. On my way back, there was Travis having just finished at school. We walked and talked and Englebert walked and panted.
There was a young boy, a pupil of the school, just hanging about behind him. ‘What’s up with the boy?’ I asked. Though he wasn’t crying, the boy was clearly upset.
‘Upset. Just needs a bit of time out,’ said Travis.
Turning to the boy he said, ‘Why don’t you take some time out? Sit a while. Consider. Hasty decisions are often regretted’.
‘But I want to punch him.’
‘I’m sure you feel like that now, but what will it solve? Will things be better tomorrow if you punch him? I think the answer is a definite no.’ It was clear from the boy’s posture that Travis’s words were getting through.
‘Sit,’ Travis continued, ‘just sit and look. Experience it all. Everything. The breeze on your face. The angry thoughts. And let the breeze carry them away’.
‘I’m cold,’ the boy said, and then with some thought, ‘Are you a counsellor? Dad says I need to go to one ‘cos it’ll stop me being so angry’.
‘No, I’m not a counsellor,’ said Travis, ‘I’m the school caretaker – you know that’.
‘And that means you take care – not just of the school buildings, but of the school children too,’ I said.
‘I do the best I can,’
The boy looked at both of us and shuffled on the bench.
‘Can I go home now?’ he asked.
‘Son,’ I asked, ‘what have you learned today?’
‘Well, I have learned it is important to experience things now, rather than worrying about what’s been done or what might happen.’
That’s good, I thought – he’d picked something up.
‘So how might you deal with this kind of conflict?’ Travis asked.
‘Well, I think because I am calmer and more relaxed I don’t care what Josh said and I don’t want to hurt him anymore.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Josh’s actions haven’t changed. He still kicked you and you still felt stupid. What’s changed?’
‘I’ve changed. The way I deal with it has changed. It like I don’t let myself stay angry, so I’m not angry.’
‘Not quite. Understand that anger is natural and normal, but living in pain in the midst of that again reality is not. Feel the emotion. Accept the emotion and move on from the emotion. Choose a more positive option. Take control.’
The boy looked more than a bit bewildered but I sense he got the gist of what Travis was saying.
‘Whatever next?’ I said, as the boy left his school mates playing football on the field, and returned to the classroom.
‘Ninja dinner ladies?’ Travis suggested. ‘It isn’t as odd as all that. I have got a tale to tell you about chief welfare officer, Mrs Docherty.’
So, I want to praise the unsung hero, the Guru Caretaker. Without him the school wouldn’t run. Without him, tears would be shed and secrets would be spread. Little boys would be mad and little girls would be sad.
Let’s praise that unsung hero.