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A scene (AZUMA YA: East Wing) of Illustrated scroll of Tale of Genji (written by MURASAKI SHIKIBU (11th cent.). The multi-panel curtain at the center bottom of the image is a kichō. The decorated sliding door panels at the top of the image are fusuma. The scroll was made in about ca. 1130 ACE and is in the Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya, Japan.
"Most look high into the heavens for his presence …"

In my grade school they were called custodians and wore beige mufti outfits. They manned the mops and brooms and kept the furnace fed. They kept the place waxed and spotless. They mowed the lawn and repaired broken windows. They seemed invisible, beside the point of the place, which was satisfying the solemn responsibility of educating future generations, and yet without their contributions, satisfying that goal would have proven impossible. They were the ContextKeepers, and every building, every institution depends upon them. They empty the garbage and clean the toilets and carry the keychain providing access to every square inch of the place. Not even the Senior Executive Director carries that much authority. I secretly aspired to grow up to become one of them, managing a loading dock all my own, a benevolent invisible man, utterly dependable.

SettlingInto this old house, I catch myself slipping into my role as ContextKeeper here.
I feel more attuned to the length of the lawn and the garbage collection schedule, feeling responsible for keeping the background hum from overwhelming. I take each weed as a personal affront and organized the garage before I unpacked my office. By ten, I've slipped into my Handyman Dave outfit again, paint splattered shirt and pants, ready to go on the hunt. Planting shrubbery or rooting stumps, I engage whole-heartedly, gratefully. I have work! I have purpose again! Nothing headline newsworthy, like The Muse up in her lofty new office conferring with if not precisely captains then at least lieutenants of the renewable energy industry, helping craft policy. I'm digging dirt and reveling in the opportunity. I run a tidy operation lest it somehow infringe upon the real purpose of this organization. I sort the recyclables.

I think it a curse of our beleaguered education system that it rarely promotes ContextKeeper as a profession, perceiving it as beneath respect and leaving it for the college washouts and veterans, but these roles deserve every bit as much respect, perhaps more, than those fulfilled by doctors and lawyers, especially lawyers. The ContextKeepers' sense of order successfully bulwarks against encroaching chaos. Should the executive washroom run out of toilet paper, fortunes could shift. Nobody seems to supervise very much of it. Work just seems to get done without anyone raising much of a fuss, all accomplished so invisibly, few notice. It's nobody's business plan to attend to their own context. It's just assumed away in planning, so a dedicated cadre takes it upon themselves to keep the context humming. Nobody carries more responsibility or seeks less recognition.

I'd occasionally catch the chief custodian at my grade school grabbing a smoke beside his furnace room door and think him the master of his universe. When I washed pots one year in steamy basement sinks, Carl, the foreman of the loading doc, supervised that basement. A feisty Vietnam veteran, he ran his operation through a seemingly endless stream of profane invective. No slight ever went unnoticed for long and no infractor, not even the chief chef, ever escaped his sharp tongue. He had context to keep. Those who'd creep into the walk-in and leave a mess behind were fucking with forces they'd better avoided. Mostly, people stayed in line. About once a month, a bear of a man would lumber through on a Sunday night to soak grill tops and oven grates in sinks filled with lye. He could have poisoned every patron had he so chosen, but he left that kitchen more sparkling than any of the chefs there really deserved. I doubt any of the chefs had even met him.

A man with the confusing name of Mr. Doctor lived down on the corner of the next block when I was a kid. He wore the khaki shirt and pants that identified him as a ContextKeeper, too. He maintained the little zoo in the city park and mowed the lawns there and whatever else needed doing. I thought him the most fortunate man in the universe, never once having to report to any office or wear starched shirts or ties, and I defy anyone to describe a better profession for anyone, a role responsible for everything and utterly invisible to most. I suspect that God, if there is one, buys his clothes at J. C. Penney's, too, and wears well-stained boots. He prunes spiritual shrubbery along the edge of eternity while almost nobody ever notices his presence. Most look high into the heavens for his presence and never suspect him restocking toilet paper in the public restrooms. He's plenty high and mighty enough for the likes of me, somebody who aspires to become half the ContextKeeper he's become.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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