Trading Recklessness for God and Longevity

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Abram makes sure that workers have clear view of famous skyline

By Patrick Wall

In his sermons, Marvin Abram is fond of saying that he’s closer to God than most folks.

Churchgoers who know the pastor’s day job understand: Monday through Friday, Abram is a window cleaner in the Financial District and Midtown, where he’s been shining part of the world’s most famous skyline since he was 22 years old.

Marvin Abram, a pastor and window cleaner, says he used to take lots of risks on the job before he found God.

Watching Abram wipe down windows hundreds of feet above the ground, it’s hard to believe him when he says that his risk-taking days are long gone. When he was just starting on the job, he said, he would swing out of windows and let his safety harness catch him, or dangle by the lifeline rope while his partner lowered the scaffold out from under him.

Describing those years, Abram said, “Reckless is an understatement.”

At that age, Abram’s antics continued after work. He was partying and getting into trouble, he said, well into his twenties.

Once, after a particularly long night, Abram woke to a pounding headache, a ringing phone and his mother shouting in the apartment below his.

“I decided to look in the mirror, and I didn’t like what I saw,” Abram said. “So I decided to do something about it.”

What Abram did was enroll in college at age 27, major in theology and obtain a minister’s license. Soon after, he was preaching at a Baptist church in Brooklyn.

During a sermon there one Sunday about five years ago, Abram asked the congregation to take out their Bibles. While most people reached for thick, dog-eared books, one woman pulled a thin electronic device out of her purse. She pushed a button, and the Scriptures appeared on the screen. After the service, Abram introduced himself to the woman.

The two began looking for one another at church each Sunday. Soon they were dating. A year later Abram proposed, and in 2006 Marvin and Nadine Abram were married. Today they are raising their newborn daughter, Madison, two months. Nadine’s 21-year-old son Gary is in college.

Every morning at 3 a.m., Abram leaves his sleeping wife and daughter in Kensington, Brooklyn, and takes a train to the city. By 4:30 a.m., he’s washing the lobby windows of a silent skyscraper.

Once the sun is out, Abram and his partner head to the roof. With their harnesses on, they climb into a narrow metal basket, pull a lever and hold tight as they’re lowered by cables down the side of the building. Then, using a wooden brush, a bucket full of water and dish soap, and a squeegee—which, like the workers, is strapped to the scaffold—each man begins cleaning.

A single, 12-foot wide column of windows on a typical 40-story building will take an entire day to wash, one floor at a time. During those hours, the workers can’t eat or drink or use the restroom.

Still, they manage to stay entertained. Abram can’t count how many people have turned around inside their offices or apartments and jumped at the sight of his smiling face. Clasped chests and dropped mugs are common reactions.

Though the work is hard, the pay is good and the benefits are great, Abram said. But it’s the camaraderie among the workers that he said matters most to him.

As a shop steward, Abram acts as a liaison between the company and his union, 32BJ SEIU. “I’m the guy people call,” Abram said, “when they have a problem.”

Every evening, as he rides the train back to Brooklyn, Abram feels blessed. “I know God loves me,” he said, “any day I make it home.”

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