Washing Away the Invisibility This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 24, 2012
It’s 7 p.m.when the last light goes out and the office finally empties. The stragglers head for their cars, fighting against the biting wind that sends empty cans and newspapers scattering across the pavement. In the corner, a rusty dumpster groans as the wind wails against it. A man approaches, wheeling a cart stacked high with trash bags and recycling. The man is briefly illuminated by a passing car’s headlights before he and the dumpster sink back into the black night. The man empties the bottles and cans into the dumpster and swings the lid closed with a thud. He heads back to the building, slowly pushing his cart.

Inside, he joins other workers, and together they move through the offices, quietly doing their job. They vacuum and mop floors, dust tables, and wash windows. They talk rapidly and laugh occasionally, but they take great care in their work. In order to support their families, they must work multiple jobs. For the man pushing the cart, this may be his third job of the day. He works tirelessly, earning meager wages for his strenuous work. Yet, for the most part, people like him go unnoticed. They work in the shadows, at the end of the day when everyone is relaxing with their families and enjoying the comforts of home.

Even those who work late enough to encounter the cleaning crew usually don’t offer a greeting or friendly nod. Instead, they bustle past, too caught up in their own lives.

Although we teenagers rarely see the people who clean up after us, they play a big part in our lives. We can see the evidence of their work in our schools. At the end of the day, abandoned papers and crinkled candy wrappers litter the hallways. Misplaced gloves, broken pencils, and forgotten erasers lie scattered like bottles and cans along the highway. Yet, when we return to school each morning, the building has been restored to its pristine condition.

Why does our society make it acceptable to ignore these important people? Many of us take for granted the work that those who clean offices, school buildings, and hotels do. But we must ask ourselves, where would we be without them? After all, they work just as hard, if not harder, than many of us. We know they exist, yet we pretend that they are simply invisible.

I always make an effort to smile and acknowledge these “invisible people.” Leaving school, I see the cleaning crew emptying trash cans and pushing carts loaded with supplies. The roar of the vacuums and the lingering smell of cleaning fluid fill the hallways as I pass. Often the workers seem pleasantly surprised when I greet them, as though they are used to being ignored. Despite my efforts to be friendly, I feel guilty that I don’t even know their names.

We live in a society where jobs involving manual labor are considered undesirable, where the people who hold these jobs are seen by many as less important than those who have higher-paying office jobs. Despite my efforts at being more aware, I find myself unconsciously falling into this mindset.

If you think about it, “invisible” people are everywhere. They all have stories to tell, if you get to know them. I encourage you to make an effort to greet the cleaning crew when you see them, learn their stories, and share your own. It may seem like a simple thing, but it can make a big difference in their lives, and in yours.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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alliperkins This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 6, 2013 at 2:55 am
This made me feel a little offended at first - I don't consider any of the janitors at my school invisible, and neither do most of the other staff members or students. We talk to each other, make jokes, hold conversations; it's really not a big deal at all. They deserve and get the same respect that the rest of the staff do, and it actually saddens me that there are other janitors elsewhere that are considered "invisible people."
bethrose said...
Nov. 14, 2012 at 12:54 am
This is very insightful. Thank you for writing this. I usually work nights for my job at a department store and I usually work with the cleaning crew. They are the hardest workers I know and the most happy. 
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