The sun had not yet risen. I groggily swung the car door open and waved a silent good bye to my mom. As I pushed the door closed, Theresa walked across the street smiling and delivering a cheerful "Good Morning!" I responded in kind, feeling lifted by her joy. I held the door open for her, and we parted ways. She went to clock in for the day, and I went to sign in for my 7:00 A.M. track workout.
In the bowels of the Field House lives an unexpected light.
I intended to prove how hard the Housekeeping staff worked. However, as I interviewed Theresa she gave me more than her daily schedule. She gave me her goals and hopes for life. As I interviewed her smiling face, she reminded me to be kind, to be thankful, and to listen to the Lord.
I have seen Theresa vacuuming the halls, emptying trash cans, unlocking office doors, and carrying on conversations with her coworkers. Theresa has completed these tasks at Baylor for twenty-two years.
"I like down here where I work, down with the coaches. . . . I don't care too much for being up there because there's always drama. . . . Down here we just do our own thing. . . I like it." Theresa says Baylor operates like a family. "What I like most about being at Baylor, everybody may have their own little conflicts with each other, but when something happens, everybody just pulls together like a big family. Everybody's heart goes out to whatever is going on. . . . You know, you don't get so caught up in your own problems that you can't let your heart go out to somebody else. . . ." Theresa’s love for her job surprises me.
Theresa wakes up before the sun does, her body stiff as she pulls herself out of bed. She may not be a morning person, but she wants to make people happy. She wants to care for them. "If the Lord is blessing me, whatever I can do to help somebody else, I'm gonna do it. . . . That's my highlight of the day: reaching out to somebody else to try to make their life a little bit better, just like I would want somebody to do for me. I love doing things for people. People that I don't even know. . . . My kids will say, 'Momma, who was that?' I say, 'I have no idea.'" Theresa often helps people in need.
One day, Theresa was in Walgreens buying her medicine. There was another lady who did not have enough money on her card to purchase her own medicine. "She was asking people, and people just looking at her like she wasn't nothing but trash. I got in my car, and I was gonna leave, and I couldn't leave. Something just wouldn't let me start that car up and leave. I got out of the car, and I said, 'Hey, how much is your medicine?' She said, 'Twelve dollars.' I said, 'I tell you what, I don't have no money; but I got my card, and I can get your medicine on my card.' I said, 'Come on, I'll go do it for you.' And I went in there. . . and the pharmacist said, 'I wouldn't do that if I were you.' He said, 'Don't do that because they'll be expecting you.' I said, 'That's a thing I'll have to deal with when we cross that bridge. . . . She needs her medicine.' . . . She was a human being, and if that medicine was something that's gonna make her feel good, or it's gonna help her get better. . . I said, 'I can get your medicine for you.' And I did." The pharmacist thought that was the worst thing Theresa could have done. "Suppose that was Jesus right there seeing what I would do. Would I just walk away and leave somebody like that?" She explained to me that I should help somebody whenever I can. "If Jesus helps me, I gotta help somebody. The love that He show and give to me, and bless me. In return, I give it back to somebody else."
"Maybe that person was in your pathway for a reason. . . . I do whatever I can. . . you can't do a whole lot, but. . . you'd be surprised, every little bit will help somebody. . . ." Theresa tells me that I cannot make it through life without caring about others. She says that a person can't prosper that way. "My goal in life, is to. . . make somebody else's life worth living just like mine is."
Theresa understands the power of words.
When Theresa was a little girl, her mom taught her, "A kind word goes a long way." Theresa advises, "Sometimes you can have a good influence on peoples' life by the way you talk to them and care for them, and that make a big difference and let them know somebody cares."
Unkind words will hurt a person. "You be careful how you talk to somebody. What you say to somebody, is gonna be a lasting effect. . . . Once you say it you can't take it back. You may say, 'Well, I'm sorry!' But . . . the damage has been done. . . . I wanna say something that I won't be sorry for when I get home."
Theresa does not only believe in talking with people, she also believes in talking with God. Prayer is a crucial piece to having a relationship with God. "Everyday that I get up, I ask the Lord to help me say something that might be of some kind of encouragement that lift somebody else's life up."
Her faith is an integral part of her, not something that she picks up and lays down like a piece of clothing. "You supposed to be a Christian seven days a week. . . . If you can say something to somebody good on a Saturday or a Sunday, you can say it to 'em on the rest."
Her faith opens her eyes to the dignity of human beings. "I don't see people like other people see people. [Some] people say, 'I wouldn't give them nothing.' I don't see it like that. . . I see things in a whole different light." She told me that some look at the homeless like they are trash, but she would never treat a human being that way because she knows the Lord would not either.
After work, Theresa may go out for dinner with her family, which includes her son and daughter, along with a granddaughter and grandson. Sometimes, Theresa will go to the mall, "It's interesting just to sit and watch people. . . . I love watching people, especially in the mall." She laughs and giggles, as she tells me how she and her daughter shop. When she grows tired of walking, she finds herself a bench and rests so she can observe passersby. "You see some very interesting people in the mall." Other days Theresa sinks into a cozy recliner elevating her tired feet. Her grandchildren's voices babbling in the background. Theresa flips through the channels of the television. Finally settling on one, she leans back and slowly lets her eyelids fall. "[I] cut the TV on, " she smiles, " and supposed to be watching the TV, but I think the TV be watching me." Her contagious laughter fills the small faculty locker room. Sometimes, when she opens her eyes again, she finds herself watching a totally different program.
Family time is valuable, and Theresa does not like infringements. Since she is at work all day, time at home is devoted to her family.
She makes an effort to always be there to support her children and grandchildren as well. "When my son was in school, and he got out, he said, 'Mom,' he said, 'all the people that I went to school, all my friends,' he said, 'They still act like we did when we was in high school. . . I liked it, but I don't want to be that person no more,' he said, 'I wanna focus on college and accomplishing something when I finish school. . . . I wanna go to college and make something good out of myself, ' he said, 'but all they wanna do is just party. . . . That was good for a while, but now that I'm out of high school, I got my mind set on other things.' . . . He went on and finished school. Both of my children finished college, and I'm so proud of them. . . . They'll call me up and tell me when good things happen for them, and they get promotions. I say, 'Oh, I'm just so proud of you.'"
Theresa teaches me to be thankful. She tells me that my parents worked hard to send me to Baylor. "Your mom put a lot of time in sending you here, and you take that time and show your mom and your daddy how much you appreciate what they did for you. And you show them by going out into the world and accomplishing something good for yourself. And say 'Thanks Mom and Daddy!' Say 'I couldn't 've did it without you!'. . . Let them be a big role in your life because whatever you do, you always gonna need mom and daddy. They always gonna be there for you, and you got to make 'em proud, girl. . . . It's not cheap coming here, but for somebody to make a sacrifice like that, they had to love you an awful lot." Tears well up in my eyes, but I blink them away. I know my parents do a lot for me, but hearing her marvel over the depth of their love hits me square in the chest. It is as if I am hearing truth for the first time.
Theresa finishes her interview by delivering an exhortation, as if she has known me my whole life.
She tells me to keep pushing for whatever it is that I set my mind to. "You don't walk on nobody to get what you want, but you don't let nobody get in your way and stop you from getting what you want and where you want to be in life."
"Whatever you set your mind to do, you can do it. . . . It's a big world. There's enough room out here for anybody who want to accomplish something. . . and don't be scared of it. Look at it as a challenge. Yeah, go out there and get it, Honey. It's there. It's waiting for you! Gotcha name on it and everything, but the only missing is you." I felt a surge of courage to pursue my dream of becoming an author.
"You got people that. . . didn't make it in life, and they didn't want nothing out of life. That's no excuse for you to let them bring you down." She called these people downers.
"You don't know. . . what they're going through. You know, that make them act the way they do." Theresa seems to speak from a wealth of experience on this point. She wants to save me the trouble of creating relationship with the wrong people. "They never have nothing nice or positive to say about nobody. . . . I don't care to be around people like that. . . . That's their goal in life, to make everybody feel miserable because they miserable themselves." Theresa refuses to join that choir. She believes there is always something good in life.
"I like to see kids come back up here and they tell, ' Oh I've been doing. . .' And I, 'Oh, I'm just so proud of you.'. . . Let us be happy for you." The enthusiasm she expresses for others' accomplishments is compassionate and gracious.
Her tone grows more serious. "Anytime that I can be of service to you, you don't have to feel like, 'I didn't want to bother you.' You're not bothering me. My time is your time. . . . I don't get so caught up in this job up here that I forget that there's somebody need me. I stop doing what I do, and I come and see what I can do to help you. I be there for you." She is not only a cleaning lady but a reliable friend.
I also interviewed Baylor freshman, Zoe Elias. Zoe told me that she and Theresa met during the summer while Zoe was at a camp. They greeted each other and exchanged some small talk. Later, when Zoe came to Baylor in eighth grade, she saw Theresa again. Theresa expressed that she had missed seeing Zoe, and that she had been looking for her. Zoe found it comforting that Theresa remembered her.
Zoe describes, "Every time I see [Theresa], she's always got a smile on her face no matter what's going on. . . . If you have a conversation with her about anything in the world, she will always be so inspirational and give you such good information about life. . . because she's wiser. . . . She's just so sweet. . . and you can ask her anything you want to. So, it's not like she's somebody who works here anymore, it's like she's your friend. . . . She doesn't judge anybody. She's doesn't care about any of the bad things. She's just gonna be there for you whether it's cleaning the bathroom or being your friend." Theresa has accomplished her goal.
"When people think of me they say, 'She always say something nice about you, and make you feel good about yourself.'" She pointed her figure at me, smiled, and made a clucking sound with her tongue. "That's what I want! That's me."
"Whatever you do, you always remember to be nice and be kind to others, and treat people the way you want to be treated. . . . I respect people for who they are. . . . If you can say something that can lift up, you do it. You let that be your goal in life: to help somebody if you can. You can't do everything. I'm not Wonder Woman, but you'd be surprised the little things you do for somebody. It's worth all the money in the world. . . . Sometimes you just say a kind word to somebody and it just seem like it made their day."
I expected to record maybe a ten to twenty minute conversation, but Theresa and I talked for an hour. I was enthralled by the inspiration that spilled out of her, and I tried to soak it all up like a sponge. I am so glad that I recorded her words because as I listened to them for a third and fourth time, I realized something new with each push of the play button.
Theresa's prayers have been answered. She is accomplishing her goals everyday. She impacts so many at Baylor by shining God's light of encouragement and thankfulness. Most of us have seen Theresa cleaning out the trash cans, tidying the bathrooms, vacuuming the hallways, or chatting during lunch. Maybe we have returned a "Good Morning," but have we really listened? I had not. I was missing out on this Wonder Woman dressed in scrubs. She may not be rich with money, but Theresa Hart is one of the wealthiest women I know. She is rich in love.