Like most people, I don’t spend a lot of time at the post office. Years ago, when I ran a small hotel in the middle of nowhere, I went there weekly to mail a package of paperwork to the owner’s accountant. I’m sure today the manager sends everything electronically. I loved my weekly visits to the Desert Hot Springs post office. Once, I taught a woman there how to address an envelope. She was probably 45, or maybe 70, it’s very hard to tell in the dessert. She had simply never learned how to address an envelope and didn’t know where everything went.
For the most part though, I liked seeing the clerks because they were the same people every week. I met a lot of great people in the desert, but I met different ones every week. The postal clerks were my constant. I think they were both old, the man had a shockingly white beard, as though it had been bleached by the desert sun. Although even after six months they didn’t seem to remember me from week to week, I remembered them, which was enough for me.
Last week, while preparing for another western adventure I went to my local post office to mail a package of paperwork. There was an old man painstakingly filling out a card. He was so slow and so careful that a few people broke post office protocol and moved in front of him in line while he was filling out the card at the counter.
When he finally finished and unbent, I could tell he wasn’t really that old, it was just the bending and slow writing that had made him seem that way. He was probably 65 or so. He approached the counter and got my favorite clerk. A middle aged woman with the remarkable Filipino talent of being simultaneously generous and kind and absolutely terrifying and intimidating.
When the man handed her his card her face broke out in a huge smile, “Look at you, you’re moving to the fancy buildings downtown, nice! No more shoveling for you mister.” The man looked pleased and explained, “I love it here, I’ve been here a long time, but I married a woman who wants to live in the city.”
“You got married?” She exclaimed, “Congratulations! Oh, you’re going to love it, so nice and clean, no shoveling or yard work, you go enjoy yourself.”
I thought about how often in life we have these big moments that we somehow think everyone will notice, but they don’t. “Well, I’m pregnant,” you, barely six weeks along, whisper to the teen at the checkout lane bagging your ice cream and saltines, and she, lost in her own big news, her own life, doesn’t even bat an eye.
“Now is this just for you, or is it a family change?” The postal clerk asks.
“Well, my wife is moving too, but she has her own last name.” He answers
“Ok,” she says, “let her fill out her own.”
“Thanks,” he answers and turns around to leave, so much younger than the man bent over the form a few minutes before.”
“Congratulations!” She calls out after him.
“Thanks, honey.” He answers, smiling as he walks out the door.
I approach the counter and deliver my package. I imagine myself saying, “In case you’re wondering, I’m mailing this for my husband, we’re going to Montana for a month.” I want to bask in her smile, her approval of life marching on and new adventures happening. Alternately, I want to thank her for making the man feel special, for giving him that rare moment to know this change was for the best. I want to ask her if she noticed how much better he looked when he left than when he came in.
But, I don’t. I move through and leave her to the next customer and think of all the changes we all have still to come.