by Amy Scheer
Freshman Paul McCleary heads to Northwestern’s cafeteria a half hour before he’d like to have a meal. He holds open the door, greets those who pass, eats and then opens the door again as diners file out.
Every day, nearly every meal, McCleary is there. And he’s also often at the doors of Christ Chapel and the Rowenhorst Student Center, continuing a habit he started in his Ankeny, Iowa, high school. To him, the hundreds of hellos said daily are his doorway to authentic Christianity.
“If we want to be like Jesus, we need to be humble and not think so highly of ourselves,” McCleary says. “What really shows you care is being willing to do little things.”
Reactions to McCleary’s quiet servanthood include surprise, appreciation and— more often than not—the question, “How long do you stand here?”
When a certain six-foot student approaches, McCleary steps aside and lets him open his own door. It’s a joke between the two, who might not otherwise have shared a laugh had McCleary not taken his post.
Door opening has, quite literally, opened the door to relationships on campus for this soft-spoken student. People are more willing to talk, he finds, especially to someone who’s not in any hurry. Impatience had been an early hurdle, but now he sees his time manning doors as meditative.
“It’s kind of nice to not worry about anything for awhile and just talk to people as they pass,” McCleary says. “I let them know I hope their day goes alright.”
As McCleary pursues a sociology major with a criminal justice concentration, he believes his profession will line up with this same desire to meet people where they are.
“When I was a kid, I thought it would be cool to be a police officer and have adventures,” McCleary says. “Now that I’m here at college, I’ve been hearing about social change, how we need to do those things as Christians. Being a police officer seems like a way to get out there and be with people and figure out ways to address these issues.”
For now, opening doors is McCleary’s way of working toward the public good. He’s a believer in small kindnesses done regularly.
“It’s good to find something you can consistently do that helps people,” McCleary says. “It doesn’t have to be very big—I’m just doing this—but be consistent, every day, every week. Just get it into your routine. What I do is not really a random act of kindness. It’s more of a routine act of kindness.”