Christmas queues & loving your neighbor

In the first line I stood in at a post office yesterday, the queue extended nearly to the door. The room was weirdly quiet—the sound muffled, I suppose, under the collective weight of the customers' expectations of service. Everyone stood focused on the sole employee processing and retrieving packages up ahead in the far distance.

“Excuse me,” I said to the young woman in front of me who would eventually buy postage to mail 30 cards back to Canada, “but is there only one person working here?”

She smiled and half-shrugged, a ‘your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine’ in international body language.

I tried to get a better look at the remote postal worker. He looked average enough, yet what crime against God or man had he committed to be relegated to working alone at the post office branch three blocks from campus? Still, his obvious misfortune aside, it was good to have something to mull over as I stood so far away from the counter, anticipating a 30-minute wait at a location defiled by public urination on so many occasions that even the cold of winter could not quell the stench.

We are mindful of the loved ones to whom we are mailing these small pieces of ourselves with all of our tender regard for them, and these strangers get caught up in our net of it somehow.

In spite of the skeleton (singular!) crew and the smell, that first post office turned out to be a quietly uplifting place. Carrying boxes and babies, walking dogs and wearing masks (you know what I’m talking about here), people acknowledged each other. I watched one woman help the homeless lady who wanders our neighborhood gather up all of the mail she had dropped on the floor and then ask her if she needed a ride anywhere. The general lack of preparedness that plagues so many of us at the post office—your box isn’t completely taped up, you grabbed the wrong envelope, you didn’t fill out the right form for next-day delivery—was indulged by our more organized brothers and sisters, allowing the more confused among us the courtesy of leaving the line and returning to it more than once.

Maybe there’s something to having those pieces of paper in hand or pushing those boxes along the counter toward a clerk that makes us more present, no pun intended. We are mindful of the loved ones to whom we are mailing these small pieces of ourselves with all of our tender regard for them, and these strangers—the baby I played with while her mama filled out another form, the sick college student in front of me that I spoke to—get caught up in our net of it somehow. We unintentionally find ourselves loving these people we have never met before in small ways and we are softer, better people for it.

So if there’s one more trip to the post office on your list, an errand that you are dreading but you know cannot be avoided, take it from me: it’s really not so bad.

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