Beatrice is from Poland. She came to this country seven years ago with dreams of becoming a doctor. Her family, once wealthy, lost everything in the war. Now her parents are gone and Beatrice has come to America, hoping that in this land of opportunity her dream might become a reality. Unfortunately, the college credits she earned in Poland weren’t transferable to the local university, so she’s had to find work to support herself while taking classes at a community college with hopes of one day going on to medical school.
Beatrice was warmly welcomed into Chicago’s large Polish community, but work is scarce and the only employment she could find is cleaning offices in one of the glass and steel office buildings that forest the central city. By day, the offices are occupied by high-powered business executives. At night, Beatrice and her coworkers carry dust cloths and vacuum cleaners from office to office, clearing away the debris of the day. Sometimes one of the daytime occupants has to work late, but it’s as if Beatrice and the others are invisible. How strange, that two people can work in the same room and each work as if they are alone. But Beatrice “…stands off at a distance…” rather than try to make conversation with someone who acts as if the dirt from her cleaning rag might somehow leap off and smear itself on him if he acknowledge Beatrice’s presence.
“O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” Butcher, baker or candlestick maker, all work has value and each worker deserves to be treated with respect. The attorney whose wastebasket Beatrice empties is dependent upon Beatrice to make her office ready for the next morning’s work; the accountant whose desk Beatrice dusts is dependent upon her to prepare a place for his morning’s calculations. No one should be made to “… stand off at a distance… ,” but many are.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
1. Are there invisible people in our world? People we ignore?
2. Is there something for which we must ask mercy?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.