The hardest job you’ll ever love
Updated: Nov 9, 2022
Window Cleaners are known to be an odd lot. Ours is a peculiar trade that inspires fear, excitement, and loathing, in various people but more generally the whole industry flies below most radar. The day in a window cleaner’s life consists of a wide range of things. There is never-ending awe for the prosperity, stately architecture, and kingly sites nestled into urban, suburban, and rural, hillsides, lakeshores, and mostly all very high-end real estate, some very unique each day anew. If we’re being honest, there is fear in some circumstances, like getting to skylights on a steeply pitched roof, or climbing back onto the ladder from the same and we’ve all dealt with swarms of angry bees while 30 feet up in the air at some point! Window Cleaners also know what it’s like to be the fly on the wall, a mere transaction in the lives of people who are too important to extend polite conversation, to be invisible, that is to feel the thanklessness of service work. We have been the muse of innocent kind-eyed children, the intruder in the minds of territorial pets, and thankfully the hero of those, a considerable number of compassionate souls who truly appreciate what we do. (Usually, folks who’ve actually done the work themselves at some point).
Much of the window cleaning is accomplished solo. Even when working with someone, each has his or her own windows, typically one person being an inside person and another the
“Outside guy” (The one doing the ladder work). Window cleaners develop sign language to communicate with teammates on the other side of the glass. The task itself is dynamic as the sunlight changes its angle constantly and so the glass refraction changes one’s perspective from moment to moment.
It is much easier to learn a static skill, that is to do a task where the object that you are focusing on is unmoving, like for example, wiring an electrical device, which is comparatively simple. One uses a specially designed tool to cut the insulation away at the same exact linear length from the end of each wire, the black is always power, the white is neutral, and a neutral wire for alternating current never goes to a switch. For an electrician, the rules of that game are fairly easily memorized so it would be difficult, even for a simpleton to confuse the order of operations. With window cleaning, by contrast, light is constantly changing, casting its shadows and hiding imperfections. The experienced window cleaner knows that he cannot trust his own eyes and perception and that he must take special measures to ensure quality. The good ones, learn to check all the angles in pursuit of excellence in workmanship.
Direct intense sunlight dries the scrubbed area so fast that one must build up his speed during the mid-summer afternoons, and the winters,
oh my! In Michigan, they are so frigid that the cleaning techs must use additives to keep the cleaning solution from freezing.
Still, a window cleaner has much time for reflection (both literally and figuratively). This is perhaps one of the reasons that the trade is dominated by Christians. It is possible to ponder big questions, to reflect on the Gospel, and Letters written by those who walked with the Lord. In one of those important letters, Paul wrote the following to the Church of Thessaloniki,
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody”.
-1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NKJV
Some see our trade as fulfilling more than providing an income. We see it as a vocation, a ministry, that honors our duty to God and community to be productive and to care for others. In a world that focuses so much on self-aggrandizement, and material possessions. Isn’t it a bit refreshing that window cleaners actually help people to appreciate the things they already have?
On the nicer summer days, at least, nothing really tops being out back of a Lake Michigan beach home enjoying the sound of shorebirds and the sights of sails, and it is also nice to be able to make that scene picture-perfect from the inside of the mansions, for the most blessed and fortunate human beings imaginable, and they also happen to be our customers. But maybe window cleaners also, a little bit, do it for ourselves too. Just because we can.