Saturday afternoon, at a quarter till 2, an old teacher friend and I rendezvoused in a flooded parking lot off of N Howard. We trudged through puddles, resigned ourselves to the now-pending dry cleaning bills, and joined a stream of ebony faces headed toward a funeral parlor. As we found our seats at the back of the chapel, I scanned the faces for the few I hoped to recognize. Our former assistant principal and two secretaries were seated a few rows ahead of us. It was a reunion of sorts, a sober occasion. We had gathered to pay our respects to Mr. Hollis, the head custodian at Lockhart Elementary.
Somewhere between the processional and the gospel rendition of Our King Lives, I wondered why exactly I had come. It wasn’t that I was one of three non-black attendees. I just felt uncomfortable not having known Mr. Hollis personally, while there were so many surrounding me who were painfully mourning his passing. I almost felt disrespectful being in the presence of his mourners without participating in their deep sorrow.
After a few reflections by people who knew him better, I began to realize why I had come.
I thought about what Jesus said to his disciples, the ones who were vying for the highest positions in his coming kingdom. He told them that his kingdom wouldn’t be structured like the kingdoms of men. He told them that if they wanted to be the greatest they had to become the servant of all. That if Jesus, their Master, had come to serve then surely their lives must reflect his pattern.
Jesus’ teaching released me to feel at ease in that chapel. I, a mere teacher whose room was unlocked and whose boxes were carted by Mr. Hollis could share the same space with his grieving widow. Although the only commonality our lives shared was our workplace, my spirit had taken note of this man.
You see, in every mental image I have of Mr. Hollis he is smiling. He’s pushing that huge gray bucket on wheels, with a broom and a mop sticking out, and he’s smiling. There was a humility he had mastered, and it wasn’t due to his life’s circumstances or position. His attitude was like Christ’s—joyful in service and content in all things. Within the world’s system, Mr. Hollis may not have ranked towards the top. But in the coming kingdom, I expect him to be seated close to the King, elbowing the likes of the apostles, martyrs and other unsuspecting servants.
It’s rare to encounter selflessness in this world of me-first. It’s rare to come across a true servant of all. But when you do, it’s only natural to break from life’s routine to stop and reflect on the witness of one of the greats. The world may not recognize him, but my God has.
Until then, Mr. Hollis.