I believe in the US Postal Department as an institution that binds us as Americans. I usually go to any lengths to avoid going into the post office. I order my stamps by mail. I use the automated weight machine in the lobby. I order gifts on line and have them shipped directly. But there is always something at Christmas; an extra bulky package that doesn’t sit on the machine, a personal gift that can’t be ordered on line, or I’ve pushed the shipping date limit and need express service.
Timing my appearance is an event, in itself; trying to calculate the odds, for the time of day, when the lines should be the shortest. Statisticians somewhere must have this calculated, but I haven’t gone that far to seek out professional advice. After making my decision to post and assuming my position in line, I continue the game by analyzing how good my decision was. I count how many people are in line in front of me. I watch to see how many more will pour in after me. “Could I have waited another fifteen minutes for the crowd to thin?” I love when the line triples after my arrival, so thankful I didn’t wait.
Today’s experience was beginning positive. The line was still contained in the inner room. Shortly after, the people began filling into the outer room. I had chosen wisely today. Feeling confident, I could relax and watch my fellow shippers. I was struck at the mix of races standing in line. Richardson, a bedroom community of Dallas, was no different than the city itself. Noticing the cultures today was different in the fact I was standing idle in a place I could observe without feeling like I was staring. A young Oriental girl was having some obvious difficulty at the counter. Motioning to an old man in the corner, who I decided was her grandfather; they began speaking in a native language. Turns out the package was labeled in something other than English and had to be re-written. The postal attendant handed them labels and a pen. Graciously the two stepped to the side and began interpreting the box address. Another customer took their place as they worked.
At another station, an Arabic man was attempting to mail a football. I knew it was a football because he was trying to send it without a box. His address was written on a slip of paper which he handed to the clerk. The clerk walked away from the counter. To the untrained eye, this would have been the actions of a woman that was giving up in total exasperation. “Who tries to ship something without a box?” But postal workers are people of few words. She immediately came back with a box. Handed it to the gentleman along with tape, a label and a pen. He stepped to the side and began to assemble. Another customer took his place.
Other stations moved better, but in fifteen minutes I hadn’t covered much ground. . Luckily the lady in front of me and the lady behind were all sharing my view and we began to discuss that this was almost to the comical stage. One women joked she could have driven her package to the destination faster. In the meantime, the granddaughter/grandfather team finished their new address label with only a minor struggle counting out the money. The football was packaged in a neat sturdy box and floating along on the conveyor belt.
My turn came and went quickly. I had a simple box with an appropriate address and I had the exact change.
Walking out of the post office I felt accomplished. I realized this yearly visit to the post office marked the Christmas holiday for me. My box rolling along the conveyor belt signaled the race was on. But rather than feeling pressure I feel fulfillment in the whole season by this simple gesture being completed. We want to connect with family and friends even if it means standing in line at the post office for what seems like excruciating time. To be American at Christmas means a willingness to overcome some simple hardships. It means going out of your way to make someone else happy. The Post Office at Christmas is a central place to come together for such a purpose. Those that appear outsiders soon learn to fall in line with the tradition. I wonder if from their perspective the system is quick and painless. I’ve never had to endure the hardship of standing in line for food or money in order to survive.
All I know is, I left feeling connected to my nieces that would be frantically ripping open packages from me in a week or so. They may not even like what I bought but they will know I loved them and wanted them to have something from me Christmas morning. I connected with my neighbors. Neighbors I never knew and probably won’t ever see again. But there was a second element in the Post office experience that struck me. Something that as Americans we take for granted. It was trust.
I could drop my package and walk away, trusting this simple government office to handle my request. I never call to check to see if my package arrives. I don’t even keep the receipt. I trust it will happen. We live in a complicated world and things don’t always happen as we expect. And it’s a cynical world too. Comics make their living from digging out the mistakes. You can’t even attend a concert without the musicians feeling the need to get in a few digs on an imperfect system. Maybe there are some flaws but most of the times it works. If you have ever tried to mail a care package to a child in Haiti, trust me it works.
For the rest of my holiday, I believe I will go “postal”. I will be patient and understanding, not hung up on the fact that everything comes in a perfect box. I will trust others are doing the best they can. We learn from others. We connect to others by helping them overcome difficulties. We provide them tools to accomplish the task, and graciously say, “Next.”
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