But to be content with Death may be better than to desire it. — Sir T. Browne
This morning I walked to the post office. Post offices are rather ugly things. The outside is usually some type of brick building. The inside offers little condolence. Much like the DMV, these government employees are commanded not to smile, laugh, or bless but must do their work with a cold severity that expresses seriousness. Of course, not all postmen are solemn Sally’s. I once met a postman who couldn’t help but crack jokes. Why, one time I sauntered into his domain with a particular package addressed to a particular university. The bubbly man took the package, and as they are wont to do, began submitting the destination information.
“Eh? What’s this?” he chimed. “Yer sending it to the wrong school son!”
“Huh?” I replied. “The wrong one!?” I was, for half a second, rather dismayed. For the contents of the package were for an application, and, well, I had sent multiple out to various colleges. Then, of course, it dawned on me that this jolly man certainly had no clue what he was talking about. How could he? But it then clicked that the man was clearly a fan of the rival, and he thought I should be sending packages to them instead.
It must, I think, be somewhat interesting to work in a post office. To see all the thousands and thousands of places where letters are sent. Post offices are great buildings of communication. They are not some hand held device. They do not speak there in emoticons or epigrammatic sentence fragments. The postmen are perhaps the last great connection to a world once known. Postmen used to be carriers of death or life. They once saw the faces of loved ones who found out their lovers had died or the faces of new grandparents. They now see holiday cards and presents. The postman is the great middleman of all true relationships that defy modern communication and contact each other through lengthy epistles. Sadly, no one does this anymore. But as I was making my way up to the post office this morning, I couldn’t help but notice how it was the ugliest building around. But why is this? Why are not these grand buildings that symbolize man’s great desire to communicate across these lands by the most natural means not erected as tall stone buildings like castles? Why is not everyone who enters laughing and singing and downright joyful about the incredible mystery they are part of? Why does it not surprise us that a mere handing of a letter to a probably generally incompetent man almost always reaches its destination? And why, for the sake of all things holy, the eagle? Why does not every post office erect a giant statue, overlaid with gold, of a mighty pigeon with an all-too important missive grasped in its right claw?
Just yesterday I sent another application to a different college for a different purpose, and I did so by way of fax. Naturally, I was skeptical. I asked the receptionist how it worked, and performing the action, she politely said the man on the other end would receive it in his fax machine shortly. this didn’t satisfy me. I stood, confused and bewildered for a second. Then I simply let out a “huh! I’m always amazed those things actually work.” Now, amaze is an understatement, for the inner workings of the fax machine transcends all comprehension. that a man can be sitting at his desk, minding his own business, and—BANG!—my resume flies out of some haunted machine in the corner and lands on his desk. Incredible. It is one thing for an email or a text message to end up on his desk. Those things aren’t real. They are fictional messages that exist in a fictional space, the ether. But the paper copy of my resume is a very real (and depressing) thing. One can hold it. And that some man a thousand miles away was holding (and perhaps scratching his head) was too much for me.
And this is why the post office is such a marvelous place. Men, carrying and delivering letters to other men. The only thing that could make the postal services better is if mailmen personally delivered my mail to me, shouting, “Delivery!” and rushing up to me in some intense fashion as if the letter, be it a mere bank statement, were a matter of life or death. Wouldn’t it be grand if postmen took their jobs with a seriousness that did not produce solemnity but gaiety? There is a seriousness that implies the man doing the task is the main line of defense for its getting accomplished. There is a seriousness that is all too serious about one’s self and not nearly serious enough about the task at hand. But there is another seriousness that forgets about the self and thinks only of the task. Delivering a man’s mail in the cold and snow does not become a nuisance, it becomes an adventure, once the man forgets about his wet shoes and red nose. One man saves the princess from the dragon because he is the man to do the job. Another man saves the princess because that is the noble and right thing to do. And this sentiment can and ought to be applied to any task one is doing. I write these ambling posts with the spirit of a serious essayist who knows full well that he is an altogether incompetent chap for the task.
In any case, I was making my way to the post office this morning, and the spirit of adventure was upon me. Everything around us this time of year is dead. Or I should more correctly state that everything around us looks as if it were dead. Everything but the snow. And well the wind—a dreadful thing in these parts—certainly felt alive. And I guess I should mention that I heard a bird up in the trees, singing its lonesome winter song to no one in particular. And what is more alive than someone singing without a purpose? And then, of course, I saw my own breath, and is it not alarming how easily one can perceive their own breathing in the bitter cold? And I must also mention that the sun is out this morning, and that life-giving force has been on holiday recently. And is a man not more alive than we he returns from holiday? And then, of course, other men were out walking about, not as if they were dead, but as if they were rather alive. A man walks with a certain purpose in the cold, for the lively wind freezes his faces and reminds him he is very much alive.
And in fact one of those ambling men was carrying a couple of packages, and I spied him from afar on my way out of the post office, after I had sent out yet another application to yet another college. Well, I went a different way this time as I left, and there was that man carrying two mid-sized packages. Immediately, my curiosity led me to wonder what might be in the boxes and where they might be heading. The possibilities flew through my brain, and the thoughts must have left a welcoming expression on my face. For as the man passed, he simply smiled and said, “Good morning.” Now, we moderns never say “good morning” anymore because good implies some value, and we generally hate the mornings. Yet this man had the spirit to declare the morning good. Well, I say. I don’t know what he had in those packages or what his intentions were. But I can say this. He was sending something by mail, by the old means of communication our grandfathers relied on. And this is a very good thing, for it is a seriously jolly task.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in my office,
Kansas State University,
January 9, 2015
Transcribed by the author,
Retiring from such a task,
January 12, 2015
Painting: “The Postman”
By Thomas Liddall Armitage,
Oil on canvas, 1891