Not The Target Market

Patience, Grace and All Too Ordinary Life

I have been very tempted to comment on the news. I haven’t, as is obvious by the gap between recent posts. All I find myself capable of are acidic, only-too-obvious and not at all charitable statements, which do not elevate, entertain or amuse. There is already far too much humorless acid in this sorry age, and not nearly enough to smile about. To counteract that, for the foreseeable future I intend to post only pieces that could be categorized as a palate cleanser or an amuse-bouche, which hopefully will  be good for our collective blood pressure.

Among the things I sorely lack is patience. The solution is not to pray for it because God in His wisdom will not answer your prayers by bathing you in the stuff. He knows that anything you come by easily isn’t valued as it should be, so He makes you work for it. Instead of giving you heaping dollops of patience, He gives you heaping opportunities to practice it. I find this out every time I include something like: “Please I need to be kinder and patient” as I foolishly did last Sunday when we were instructed to silently add our needs during the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass.

Not three days later, I went to the post office to mail a birthday card to one of the British babies. The card was already going to be late because time never acts the way I think it should. I am continually surprised when I match up what day I think it is with the actual date on the calendar. Invariably I am about 12 days behind. (As this is far too big an expanse to be attributed to trouble with the annual daylight savings switcheroo, I sometimes wonder if somehow I acquired a brain programmed for the Julian, rather than the Gregorian, calendar.) In any case, my birthday cards are always late and always involve a hopeless dash to the post office.

On the day of this hopeless dash, I had to go out for a meeting with a client and decided, as it was on my way, to leave a few minutes early and pop into the post office and then the bank, as I was very short on cash (something I recently learned that only old people carry, but that is a subject for another time.)

At the post office, there were only three people ahead of me and there were clerks manning two of the windows. All good, I thought. The line, however, was strangely still. After a few minutes, when the two customers at the windows were still there and showed no signs of moving on, I realized that not only were there numerous and difficult transactions afoot, but they were further complicated by the clerks knowing their customers and everyone catching up on the news since their last visit.

After almost 10 minutes of standing there and not getting any closer to getting out, one of the customers finally finished up and the next person in line, who had an armful of perhaps 12 or 15 bright purple plastic packages, staggered over to the window.

I was informed by the man who had joined the line immediately behind me, that this woman was a franchisee of Lulu something or other. He apparently recognized the purple packages. He said his stepdaughter was also one (franchisee, not package.)

“Like Amway for clothes,” he sighed. It wasn’t clear to me if this sigh was for the stepdaughter, the Lulu business or the wait.

We continued to wait. The clerks continued to prioritize chat over the business at hand. To someone itching to get in and out (like me), it was crazy-making because I could see the business end slow to a crawl and even outright stop when there were really juicy bits to impart.

When Lulu girl was about half way through with her business, the other clerk finally finished up with whatever had been going on at her window, and the second person in line moved on up. This woman had about twenty 9 x 12 manila envelopes, all needing a postage strip. As they all appeared the same, I’m not sure why she just didn’t get stamps; but she didn’t. Probably because I was in a hurry and that day was one of the ones foreordained from all time to further my education in patience.

And so each envelope was individually weighed with care and concern. In the meantime Lulu girl was chatting away with Jim, her clerk, who is chatty even if the customer is not. The purple pile diminished only slowly as she and Jim debated the merits of which class to send what, recounted stories of packages not making it, and wondered how anything so bright and purple could get lost in a sorting machine.

In spite discussing the ins and outs of the postal back office, Jim managed to finish up before the manila envelopes and the third person in line went up to him. She had a package – in a box that needed taping on all sides – and an address label that needed filling out. Jim happily taped away (and chatted) while she wrote out the label.

The manila envelopes were proving to be an endless source of revenue. The package lady finished and 25 minutes into my wait, it was finally my turn. I had already apologized to the guy behind me, saying that if the postage was more than $2, I was going to have to use my debit card as I had no cash other the two one dollar bills I was clutching, and that I was not normally so feckless, but the bank was my next stop.

Without weighing the birthday card, which was a little larger than normal and came with an envelope that said “may require extra postage,” Jim said: “That will be $1.15.” And he slapped a stamp on the envelope.

I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but like a fool, I said: “Are you sure?” I accept my reputation for being late with birthday cards; I don’t accept one for having them returned to me three weeks later for insufficient postage when I have waited for 25 minutes to buy the correct postage.

And he said he was. Then apparently he wasn’t and weighed the envelope. It was about a tenth of an ounce over the $1.15 tariff.

Jim congratulated himself on catching that and laboriously peeled off the stamp. The line was now out the door. He re-weighed the envelope and said: “O.K. Now it’s $2.13.”

I sighed and put away my $2 and pulled out my debit card. I was pretty quick, and swiped as soon as the screen said I could.

At the same time, the poor guy behind me, the one with the Lulu stepdaughter and who had now been waiting about half an hour to pick up a package that needed to be signed for, said: “What does she need – 13 cents?” and started digging in his pocket, but he was too late. The transaction was already in progress.

It finished. I dashed out. The Lulu stepdaughter guy finally got to the counter. The manila envelopes, though, were still going strong.

Unlike Aesop, who liked to put the morals at the end, I put it at the beginning. But, in case you weren’t paying attention, I will repeat it.

Praying for patience is a risky business and it’s a sure bet that you will get your chance to take a whack at it just when you are most in a hurry. It seems to me that someday some physicist somewhere should be able to codify this as one of the laws that keeps the universe in place.  Perhaps something like Patience = no time x grace.

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