Here’s another one of my favorite posts from the archives written around 2007.
In the course of my job as church secretary, I make a lot of visits to the Post Office. Sometimes the line is short (oh happy day) and other times the line is long. (Oh not so happy day.)
Thankfully, the fact that I am an inveterate people watcher always keeps me well entertained during my longer waits. I love to watch how people interact with other customers and with the postal employers, I like to look at their posture and their mannerisms, I enjoy listening to their accents and speech patterns and I love seeing what they’re wearing.
Mr. Crabby Patty Person
It’s especially interesting to observe how different people affect the customers around them. For example, I was standing one day in a long line which included a fella who was obviously of the crabby, impatient variety. He stood patiently for all of about three seconds and then he started shifting from foot to foot, emitting long, loud exasperated sighs, and wrinkling his unhappy face into fierce scowls. Finally he burst out vehemently, “This Post Office is the sorriest business in the whole town!”
The people around him shrank back and angled their bodies away so that they didn’t have to make eye contact with Mr. Crabby Patty Person. After his loud pronouncement, I could feel a depressing pall settle over the place as we all shifted in place, hoping to escape as soon as possible.
Ray of Sunshine Person
But thankfully, for every Crabby Patty there is a Ray of Sunshine. A few days later, when the Post Office was especially crowded and bursting with impatience, the front door suddenly burst open and into our weary midst a cheery looking man appeared. He beamed at us all before heartily exclaiming, “Look at all these people lined up! They must be giving something away!”
This statement was greeted by a delighted chuckle from the assemblage .
As he smiled his way through the lobby, I looked at my fellow line-dwellers and was amazed to see this man’s contagious cheeriness ooze its way up and down the line. People started chatting with each other and the pent-up irritation just leaked away. Isn’t it amazing the difference one person can make with grumpy Post Office patrons?
And finally, here is my favorite Post Office Ponderment.
I was in my usual Post Office People Watching Position one recent afternoon when I noticed an elderly woman accompanied by a nicely dressed man who appeared to be in his mid fifties. They looked so much alike that I knew they had to be mother and son.
They appeared to have an important document to mail because they were asking a number of questions about certified mail vs. registered mail. I got the impression that the mother was quite independent and was determined to handle this particular transaction on her own. I could also tell that her son was doing his best not to overstep his bounds and yet was wanting very much to be available to help with any question or difficulty that might arise.
As it turned out, she did indeed end up handling the whole transaction on her own, or at least until the very end when it came time to pay the bill. It was an odd amount and when she reached into her wallet to pull out the bills, her son instinctively reached into his pocket to retrieved some change, determined to help in some way, however small.
For a moment I thought that she wasn’t going to allow him to do even that much but in the end, she graciously acquiesced. He leaned toward her and with love and tenderness, gently counted the change into her outstretched palm.
As I watched them, it occurred to me how much their roles had changed over time. I wondered how many times over the course of his growing up years–when he was five or nine or twelve years old— that she had taken his small hand in hers and carefully counted out change into his upturned palm.
And now, decades later, their world had shifted. He was the one counting out the nickels and dimes, trying in some small way to repay her for all the times she had given small change—and big love—to him.
As I stood and watched this mother/son scenario, I couldn’t help but look ahead thirty years. I could see Nathan and me in the Post Office, with me a little stooped over and Nathan, tall and strong beside me. I could imagine him hovering near me, wanting so much to help and yet not wanting to breach the walls of my independence uninvited.
I could envision him reaching into his pocket and lovingly counting out twenty-three cents into my palm, happy to be allowed to help in some small way even as I struggled with finding my balance in that awkward transitional place between being needed and needing help.
As I brought my thoughts back to the present and watched the son take his mother’s elbow and tenderly guide her out of the building, tears filled my eyes. I felt so grateful to realize that the son I’m raising is well on his way to turning into a man like that–a man who will give me space to be my own person but who will also be ready to help when the smallest opportunity presents itself.
Even as I write these words, sitting alone in Nathan’s empty room and awaiting his return from college, there are tears in my eyes. They are tears of thanksgiving because I know that the son of my past and the son of my present have both given me every reason to believe that the son of my future will be a man of strength and love and compassion.
And when the inevitable day comes when I am not so strong and not so young, when he is watching out for me and counting the change into my palm–when that day comes, I know beyond any doubt that I will be in strong and tender hands.