I just needed a stamp. In fact, half of a stamp was really all I needed. I wanted to mail a square envelope, and, you know, the Postmaster General would like to charge me extra for the square-ness of my envelope, so I needed a little extra postage.
My own post office was busy, crowded as usual, and the automatic stamp dispenser machine was out of order (of course), so, impatient person that I am, I left. I had errands to do in the neighboring town anyway, so I thought I’d stop at their smaller post office to quickly buy my stamp.
As soon as I walked in the door of the smaller post office my irritation level began to rise. Three people already stood in line and only one person seemed to be working there.
One very talkative person.
I took a deep breath and found my place at the back of the line. My card wasn’t going to get mailed unless I put myself through this torture and simply waited.
As the first woman stood at the window mailing her package, stroller in tow, I listened to her chatting away with the clerk. Couldn’t she just hurry this up? I thought. Don’t they know people have better things to do than stand in line at the post office?
But as I stood there I couldn’t help noticing my surroundings. The post office was old, with cool stone floors, the kind you’d like to lay face down on on a hot summer day, and wood paneling surrounding the old clerks windows. I could see a faint trace of the words “Parcel Post” beneath the rubbed off surface above one of the windows, reminding me of a day when the pace of life was slower, more deliberate.
The first woman finished her transaction and headed outside with her stroller, and the second woman in line stepped up to the clerk. I noticed his cheerful greeting and her cheerful response.
The man in front of me, I saw, was old with thinning gray hair and a rumpled black jacket. He looked like he had a hard time walking because he was leaning hard on a counter behind us. He took a couple of deep breaths and seemed as irritated as I felt inside.
Who has time for this? I wondered. Good grief! Let’s stop the chit-chat and move along!
By now I began to notice the clerk at the window. How his eyes had deep laugh lines around them. How he seemed to really enjoy talking to his customers. Did he have a hint of an accent?
I began to wonder how he became a postal clerk. Was it a good job? Did he like coming to work? How long had he been here?
Finally, finally, he finished with the second woman in line and the old man in front of me shuffled to the counter. He grunted a muffled hello and handed a package to the clerk, whom, by now, I noticed was probably in his early 60s.
“Good morning! Is this all you have?” the clerk asked. “You didn’t have to wait in that line! You could have just handed it over to me.” His voice was cheerful, not one bit dissuaded by the grumpy old man’s demeanor. In fact, I’m not even sure he noticed the man’s grumpy exterior at all.
He continued, looking straight into the old man’s eyes, “Are you having a beautiful day today, sir? Because you deserve to have a beautiful day.”
Did he really just say that? To another man? I found myself chucking silently.
The old man mumbled something, then laughed. Smiled, even.
So did I.
The clerk went on chatting, something about Spanish. “Do you speak Spanish?” he asked.
The old man replied, in Spanish, “Un poquito.” And then said something else in Spanish that I didn’t recognize.
The clerk had gotten him! “I’d say you speak more than ‘un poquito’ Spanish! You do very well!” Another compliment lobbed the old man’s way.
And finally, a grin, wide and toothy. The clerk’s work here was done.
The man took his receipt and said good bye. “Have a great day!” shouted the clerk after him.
By now I had waited probably a full five minutes and I knew something about this clerk. He was an immigrant from somewhere, based on the deep lines in his face (just like my German grandfather’s) and the trace of an accent. He was well educated.
And he made it his mission in life to make every encounter with every person at his window a positive one.
I couldn’t wait for my turn!
I stepped up and asked for the proper stamp. Twenty-one cents. That’s all I needed, but I got so much more. We chatted about a famous Croatian (ah ha!) author whom he had read, then about Abraham Lincoln (“Did you know he worked in as a Postmaster?”), which led to a discussion of New Salem and Springfield.
By the time I left the post office, my day was made.
I smiled as I headed to my car and thought about the man I had just encountered. How rare for a person, any person, to take the time to see each customer as a human being with likes and interests and passions. How rare for a postal clerk to act as if he truly loved his job. How rare for a man to ask another man if he was having a beautiful day and then to tell him he deserved it.
How rare for a human being to show such deliberate kindness to another in this day and age.
His kindness, his goodness, made me stop and think. Do I really take the time to make sure every encounter I have with another human is a positive one? How often do I really look into another’s eyes and see what’s there? How might I make sure that the people around me feel special just because they really are?
The postal clerk blessed me that day by showing me that slowing down matters. Looking people in the eye makes a difference. And a little kindness goes a long way.
Are you having a beautiful day? You should! Because you deserve it.