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Gods and Janitors

Tom Sturch

1 Gods and JanitorsOf the gods, my favorite is Janus. He was the god of beginnings, transitions and portals. The month of January is named after him. His name heads the oldest lists of Roman gods. His temples were oddly small and made of wood, yet, he was sometimes referred to as divom deus, or god of gods. He was said to be present at the beginning of time and guards the gates of heaven. He was invoked at the celebration of every other god and he alone was worshiped at the first of each month. He is usually depicted with two faces, one bearded and one smooth-shaven, one looking aft, and one fore.

Among these disparate traits, though, my favorite thing about Janus is his place in the derivation of the word “janitor.” It's wonderfully counter-intuitive and paradoxical, but in an ideal way it makes sense. If you're like me, your first encounters with janitors were in elementary school. Common but revered, they were ever-present, uniformed and kept a cart with special equipment. They had exclusive and intimate knowledge of attics and basements and a ring of keys to unlock every door. They had a pink powder that transformed every spill into a sweepable material and bravely neutralized even the most disgusting post-lunch mishaps. But we don't idealize janitors that way anymore, do we?

Perhaps we should. Maybe we should even identify with them. Jim Carey was once a janitor. Ben Affleck's dad was a janitor at Harvard. (Aha! Good Will Hunting!) Janitors have made for many memorable television and movie roles. They show us something about ourselves. Some are sage like Fortune, the janitor from “Rudy”, while others seem foolish like Carl the Janitor from “The Breakfast Club.” There are portrayals of idiocy like Joe Dirt and necessity like Dr. Richard Kimble. They walk among us but as from another world like the un-named “Janitor” from “Scrubs.” There is something true and essential about them no matter how they are portrayed. Something wise in their futility, something constructive in their duality. Something of the god in their humanity. Custodians of time and space with history and possibility in view.