The man with the shepherd crook disguised as a dust mop has died. There is a melancholy in the closet where the mops lean against the wall and the Folger’s can is empty, no longer filled with Brach’s candy. Rusty gave it all away.
General Douglass MacArthur said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away,” except for one soldier in my youth who will never fade. Albert “Rusty” Matthews was a war hero, unbeknownst to me. I knew him as the custodian, the guy with candy who knew my name and treated me as if I was worthy of a grown up conversation although I was only ten years old. His office was a supply closet scented with pine cleaner. He was a guidance counselor in janitor clothing, counseling the shy and socially disconnected in a school hallway with a dust mop and pockets filled with hard candy waiting for an orphaned moment of childhood insecurity.
So many children loved Rusty. We knew so little about Mr. Matthews, except he loved us and watched out for the lost children, the quiet ones, the cast aways, the unpopular. He didn’t have an MBA, but he was a police officer, a lumber man, a janitor, a decorated war hero. My daughter recently asked about furthering her education and I told her a few things about getting an MBA degree, but I wish I had told her this.
Be like Rusty. Live your life with a sense of wonder, a gleam in your eye, and candy in your pocket. Love the gentle, the shy, the broken, the hurting. Do the menial, the necessary, the dutiful, and when you are able, the heroic. But mostly polish floors and sweep away dirt and shine your life with gems of friendship, hard work, and a reputation beyond reproach. And then people will judge you for who you are, not by what hangs framed on your wall. Get a long handle dust mop to guide lost sheep while you work, a generous pocket of candy, and speak with those who don’t know how to talk yet…those things are hard to frame and hang on a wall…but immeasurably more valuable than any degree.
Rusty, we’ll miss you old soldier, sweeper of floors, watcher over children. You will never fade away.