Leslie of Liverpool
by Don Staheli
I’ll just do me duty.
He looked a little pitiful sitting by himself at the end of the long corridor. A rather small Englishman with thin and scruffy hair, he was not the kind to make a first-glance good impression. Somehow images of the comic actor Stan Laurel came to mind when I first saw Leslie.
Leslie was a security guard in a building in Chorley, England, a building that had a few too many security guards. I’m not sure what they expected would render the place insecure, but whatever it was, they were certainly prepared. The guards were placed with a stratagem designed, I suppose, to fend off whatever evil might lurk in the hearts of calculating men. And Leslie must have been assigned his post as an integral part of some grand defensive tactic.
In fact, Leslie was guarding a locked door at the end of a little-used hallway. Why, I cannot say. No bare-handed human could get through the heavy, bolted door. Whatever could break it down–should someone for some unknown reason want to break it down–would not be deterred by diminutive Leslie. The main threat from this direction was not likely to be from any outside source of danger, but from the almost deadly boredom that filled the air at the end of the hall until I don’t know how Leslie could breathe.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this poor man. I introduced myself, hoping a moment of conversation might ease the monotony some.
“And your name?” I asked.
“Leslie,” he said quietly, perhaps a little annoyed at my intrusion.
“And where are you from, Leslie?”
“Ah,” I quipped, “Leslie of Liverpool.”
He grinned a bit sheepishly and probably thought I was making fun of him. Maybe I was.
Leslie was very pleasant, though, and quickly my impression of the foolish actor was completely dispelled. Here was a bright, middle-aged man with a family to care for. He wasn’t a big man, but not quite as small as I had first thought.
I soon learned that Leslie was a volunteer. Yes, he worked as a security guard in another city, in Liverpool, actually, but he manned this post as a favor to a friend and wasn’t getting a dime for being there.
“Leslie,” I said, “could I get you a softer chair?”
“No,” said he, “this one will do.”
“Well,” I proposed, “do you really need to be here? Nothing seems likely to happen.”
He looked around as if to quickly assess the current level of security.
“I’ll just do what I’ve been asked,” he said in his thick Liverpudlian accent. “I’ll just do me duty.”
“May I at least bring you a can of juice or something? You could man your post and still drink some juice.”
“No thanks,” he replied with a certain firmness in his voice, “I’ll just do me duty.”
I finally gave up. “Okay, have a good evening.”
I admit I was not very sympathetic to Leslie’s sense of duty. It seemed a bit overzealous to me.
That night I had an interesting dream. I was in England, so it is not surprising that it was a dream of knights and heavy armor and white chargers. There were fighting and bravery, charging hordes and clanging swords.
One knight stood out among all the rest. I don’t remember if his armor was actually shining, but he was strong and true and the hero of my dream.
As the hero-knight emerged victorious, he stopped and dismounted his powerful steed. He stood before me, removed his helmet with dignity, and quietly introduced himself.
“Good day, Sir,” he said calmly. “I am Leslie, Leslie of Liverpool.”
I awoke with a start. Wide awake. And I saw clearly the courage of Leslie.
He had been asked to perform a rather perfunctory task, but his sense of honor and duty caused him to do it to the very best of his ability. I think he would have guarded the Crown Jewels with no more pride or careful attention. A volunteer, not being paid at all, sitting alone in that empty hall, he felt a commitment to muster all his professional skill and to focus on the performance of his duty. Even with detractors like me around, he was determined to stay on track and do it right.
Leslie taught me that to do your duty is to set aside self and give heart and mind to the higher good. To give it your all, even when the individual task seems truly menial, that is the fulfillment of duty. It’s the Leslies of the world, each one doing his or her duty, that allow us all to rise above our natural human meanness and achieve what none could do alone.
The next evening as I was leaving the building I looked in hope for Leslie. He was there again, at the end of the hall, a knight in invisible armor doing his duty. I was glad to see him. We greeted each other. Then, without telling him why, I asked a passer-by to take my picture standing next to Leslie. I wanted to remember what a hero looks like and prove that I had known one.
Lancelot, Gawain, and Galahad are legendary for purity and cunning and strength, but Leslie of Liverpool, the great doer of duty, is my hero.
I’ll just do me duty.
2006 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.