Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lessons From the Post Office

Now that I am selling handmade products on Etsy, trips to the post office are more frequent. Living in a metropolitan area, there are often many other customers there too. I find the social interactions to be quite interesting - sometimes my observations even bring a smile.

I start out feeling anxious and frustrated, wanting to be next in line even though they are only on number 94 and my little pink tag has "114" written on it. Some people are in a hurry, others are confused, some find unanswered questions and are turned away. I watch. I listen. One man explains how his mail got lost and he needs to find out what happened to it. I wonder how in the world the postal workers could ever track down one man's mail. Someone talks on the cell phone; I wonder if they see the handwritten note that says, "Please don't approach the window if you are talking on your phone" Will they try to break that rule. I am quite sure that the postal worker will confront the person; she's tough! Despite this, I have discovered a fondness for her no nonsense approach. Someone else scrambles to find just the right box or envelope, wondering if it needs "first class" tape provided by the post office or if their own masking tape will do the trick. I have been there - not sure which box or envelope to use. Have I overpaid just because I used the wrong packaging? I wonder what is in the envelopes and boxes around me. Sometimes, complete strangers will give advice from lessons learned at the post office. I am pretty sure a person next to me is mailing text books or possessions, maybe sold on Ebay. One day, I talked to a woman wondered how much it would cost to mail her package. She was sending cereal to her son, who is in college. He lives in another area of the country and is unable to buy a certain brand that is found here in the central part of the country. She worried that sending the box would end up being more than the food was worth; it probably did! I formed a little connection with her; before I know it she is gone and I am left to reflect on her friendliness. There is a young guy, somewhat dressed up with many large crisp flat envelopes. Is he sending resumes in this difficult economy or submitting applications for graduate school? He seems a bit busier than some of us, like more is at stake. I find my customs form, get it filled out, feeling pleased that I can do this easily now. I think back to the first time I stumbled through this process.

When I first entered the post office, I hoped that my trip would only take a couple of moments as my mind is filled with so many thoughts. As it becomes clear that my trip will take longer than expected, I somehow find contentment in watching the variety of interactions. Strangely, it is even somewhat calming. I settle into the fact that I am there for the long-haul. While I occasionally see the worst of fellow men, more often I see kindness and patience persevere. This leaves me with the hope that things aren't always as bad as they might seem from the onslaught of news we are bombarded with each and every day.

Time seems to slow down as I watch a woman give up her seat, an old metal chair with a cracked green padding. She noticed a man, much older than her, amble into the building. He politely turned her down when she asked him to take her seat. But, struggling to walk and breathing heavy, he reluctantly sat as she politely walked away. The woman, now out of earshot, didn't see him turn to the young dark haired lady next to him and say, "Some people can be so kind, can't they?" It was heartwarming to see his appreciation. It was a reminder that this is how we should all treat each other!

I am next! My yellow envelope is now on its way to the buyer. When I turn away to walk through the metal and glass doors, all of the busy thoughts I had when I came seem less important. I entered the building thankful to have sold something online, but I leave having just witnessed human interactions that remind me of the important things I have learned about treating each other with respect.


  1. Thank you, Stephen, for your great little story. It's interesting where we can find our life lessons. We can certainly learn as much of value from day-to-day human contact, as from clever books and magazines. It can be encouraging to see how kind and generous people can really be; and truly humbling, to witness someone we might consider to be badly off or disabled, give up their seat or go out of their way to help another person who is more needy still.
    Maybe I should go to the big post office instead of the peaceful little one in my village!

  2. What a great little post. Such a nice insight into the ordinary goings-on of people. Thank you so much for sharing, it's was a very relaxing read. You have a way with words! :)