I’m not a postal employee, but my experience as a postal customer has given me a lot of opportunity over the years to be of service to others.
For example, I know that if the line stretches to the door in December, and there are three windows open, you’ll be fine. It’s just a 20-minute wait. You are better sticking it out than saying, “I’ll come back later.” Because no amount of “coming back later” will be less time than that 20 minutes ahead of you right now.
So that’s what I would advise people if I’m walking the route between my car and my P.O. box, and I see a look of dismay as they open the door. Or if I hear something like, “Ugh. That line.”
On the other hand, if two windows are open or only one, it gets a little more iffy. I can’t help you there. Because who knows.
One time a young man had left the checkout area, returning to the lobby with a stunned, confused look on his face. At the moment, I was headed back to my car after checking my box, and our conversation started with, “Excuse me, ma’am.” He didn’t understand why he’d just spent so much money when all he wanted was a PO box and a roll of stamps.
“Is that how much stamps are now?” he asked.
I stopped, took a look at his receipt. “When you buy a ‘roll’, it is,” I explained. “That’s one hundred stamps. One hundred times 47 cents is $47 dollars. If you get a ‘sheet,’ that’s 10 stamps, or $4.70.”
“Shooo-weeee,” he said. “I better go take some of these back.”
Glad to be of help. Poor guy.
I don’t loiter at the post office. I’m just walking to my box from my car and back again as these opportunities to serve arise.
Usually these interactions are with strangers. On day last week, however, I was delighted to pull open the glass doors, step into the lobby and come face to face with my friend Marcia. It turns out she was interested in making a postage purchase but wasn’t sure how to use the self-checkout kiosk. A first-timer. So we stepped up to face the kiosk, and I showed her step by step how it’s done. We chatted, said “good to see you again,” went on our way.
My trip to the post office is not a hobby. The contents of my box has implications for my life several days a month. But I don’t always know which days. It’s where I get my checks. I’ll usually have a sense in my head of when one is due, and if it’s there, that’s great. I get a lift. If not, I sigh and tell myself, “don’t worry.” But I still might feel a sense of dismay or disappointment.
So the point I’m making is that I may be having a good day or a bad day at the P.O. when I see someone else’s need. And whether I’m going or coming, I may be having to call upon a sense of trust myself that all will be well.
That’s also why I know how important the contents of the boxes can be to the individuals who rely on them.
This past Saturday, I had just pulled an envelope out of my own box when I turned to face a dilemma. Someone needed help, and he’d already left the post office. I could see five small envelopes on the floor, and I knew they were checks. Payments to a lawn service. Clearly, they’d fallen out of the owner’s hands when he pulled out his mail, and he was gone.
I started to resolve the dilemma by stacking the envelopes in a neat pile, assuming no one would bother them, and they’d be there when he came back on Monday. But I couldn’t leave it at that. Didn’t seem like I’d done enough. So I walked back again, picked up the envelopes and headed inside to speak to a cashier. Two windows were open. One customer in line. “I can do this,” I thought.
When the first cashier completed a transaction, I held up the envelopes and explained that they had fallen out of someone’s hands. I thought the person ahead of me in line would grant me just a little grace at this interruption, given that I was only handing something over. The cashier listened to my explanation, understood the problem, and said she’d put them back in the box.
I left with my own mail and returned to my life. Which at this moment comes down to this one part of one verse in Psalm 37: “Trust in the Lord and do good.”
I don’t control much of anything else, but I do control my level of trust in God’s control, and I do control whether I respond to opportunities to serve.
We all need a little help, a little grace. And we need people watching out for others. Even, frankly, in the operation of government services. Mr. Rogers said his mother once told him, “When times are scary, look for the helpers.” Most times are a little scary. So be a helper. And look for them too.
I have missed my mother in this season, though, the truth is, I miss her in most seasons. But I remember she often told me, “When you see something on the floor, pick it up.” Let me hasten to add, I NEVER liked it when she told me that. Nor have I ever forgotten her words. And I follow this instruction all the time – though not the “floor,” but the ground – when I’m out in the world and see little pieces of debris. Nails, screws, bolts and stuff.
As some of you know, I’ve created art pieces out of the debris I pick up on my morning walk, and I call it The Nail’s Pace Collection. Because I say, “I walk at a nail’s pace.” I suppose — given that I make art out of things I pick up — I could have called myself a “pick-up artist,” but that didn’t sound right for some reason.
If you’d check them out for your gifts and your own tree, it’d be a big help to me.
Just wanted you to know.