Several years ago, I was visiting one of my best college buddies in his towering apartment complex in San Francisco. In the elevator, I exchanged pleasantries with an elderly woman with silver hair, a beaming smile, and a basket full of cleaning supplies.
“How are you doing today?” I asked.
“WON-DER-FUL!” she replied.
There was something in the way she said “wonderful”—the way she enunciated every last syllable with such intense focus and passion—that made me take a step back.
“I love the way you say that word,” I said.
“Well, honey, I just cleaned the dirtiest of apartments and that’s why it’s a WON-DER-FUL day."
Household chores aren’t exactly my idea of wonderful. I asked her to explain.
The woman told me that she was, in fact, a professional housekeeper. One of her new clients in the building was a young man who she knew had some major problems in his life. When she went to clean his apartment that day, she had been shocked by what she saw. The accumulated filth and disarray seemed overwhelming. She immediately thought about refusing the job, but then decided otherwise.
“What made you change your mind?”
“It occurred to me that this young man desperately needed to turn his life around. I thought about how difficult it would be in an apartment like that.”
So she got to work disinfecting the place. She picked up trash and scrubbed profusely. Before she knew it, she started seeing the beginnings of progress. Encouraged by the small improvement, she redoubled her efforts. Many hours went by. She eventually worked her magic in every nook and cranny.
“Wow, you must be exhausted.”
“Actually, I got to thinking how a better home environment might not only encourage him to change, but if he were in a better place, maybe he could help others change too? I wasn't tired after that.”
What she said next still rings in my ears like it was yesterday.
“When every surface of that apartment was just as sparkling as could be, I looked back at that room and it actually winked at me!”
It was then that I knew I had just met, quite possibly, the greatest housekeeper in the world.
There are many day-to-day chores that all of us do for work that aren’t particularly glamorous. We get tired. We feel frustrated. There are spills to clean up and mistakes to make right.
But maybe we all have the potential to transform our most challenging moments into truly WON-DER-FUL ones. Perhaps what we get out of a challenge equals what we invest in it. Maybe when we invest all of ourselves as part of a greater purpose, we can change ourselves plus the people around us.
And then one day, the world just might wink back.