Friday, June 28, 2013

Janitor in a Korean Sauna

In the Kyeongyang magazine, a man who retired from his government job writes of his recent experience as a janitor in a Jjimjilbang, a gender-segregated public bathhouse furnished with the traditional Korean saunas and massage areas, and places to eat and sleep, all for a reasonable price. It was not what he expected to be doing after retirement; he saw himself doing some kind of volunteer service work. 

However, after his severance pay was gone and needing pocket money, he looked around for work. Though he appeared to be in his fifties, his life history made it clear he was at that time in his late sixties (now 75). Nobody was  interested; if an accident happened there would be serious problems, he was repeatedly told.

For a couple of years, he continued to look for work without any results. He then heard there was work available in a Jjimjilbang; without any thought of what kind of work it would be, he accepted the job. Not only did he have to sweep and clean the premises but all the accumulated trash had to be separated and readied for disposal, which was difficult to do at his age. Even using a mask, he found the smell awful. And in the winter his fingers would become ice cold, and in the summer he would perspire so much it felt as if he were in a sauna. But he did manage to stay with the job,now going on for three years.

During this time he was the secretary of the parish purgatorial society, but found he could no longer manage both jobs and told the priest he had to leave his parish work. He said he was doing the janitorial work for money, but it was also penance for the sins in his past life. He had been very active in the parish over many years, serving as parish council president and the president of many parish groups. 

Because of his work in the Jjimjilbang, he met many Catholics and workers that he knew from his past work places, and felt embarrassed, he said, to be seen doing janitorial work. One visitor to the Jjimjilbang was a subordinate he used to work with; the man told him he found it difficult to continue coming to the sauna and seeing his old boss working as the janitor.  Overcoming the problem of 'saving-face', he realized, was also a problem that others had to deal with when they met him in this situation. He remembers reading that humility is a difficult virtue to practice, and without God's help difficult also to understand.

Whenever he's asked now about his work, he answers without hesitation: a janitor. Putting into practice what he has learned about humility, he is perfectly at peace and has no problems with the work. Jesus used the word peace, after the resurrection, to greet those he met. Without God's help, it is difficult to experience this peace. He ends his article with a request: asking his readers for their prayers as he continues to work to clean his own interior of the garbage that is still there.

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