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Head down. Carry the mail.

Each day runs into the next. Life has become a series of episodes, everyone much like the other. I get up at 7:15, sit on the edge of the bed and wonder what this is all about.

It’s normal, I think, to begin to rethink things when one reaches senior citizenship. More lies behind than in front. I have thought a great deal about my past in the last few months. It’s easy to do. When days bleed into one another without time to contemplate their passing, those few moments I have to myself become weighty.  

Some days, I skip through, carrying my long and difficult route, departing the office early and arriving back by 5 or 5:30. Other days are more difficult—ad or coverages, tons of packages. I struggle under the weight of an armload of magazines and a satchel full of heavy parcels. Weather is something I dress for.

Regardless of my ease or difficulty, the mission never changes. Everything about the Post Office is about delivering the mail that day, no matter how long it takes. It doesn’t matter how I feel or what my problems are. No one cares. Get the mail delivered in a timely fashion. That’s what counts.

Having this singleness of purpose gives meaning to the work. People don’t wonder how their big catalogues or heavy packages get to their door. They don’t—and shouldn’t—worry about how har the carrier has to work to get them there. Mostly, people expect the mail will arrive. And that’s good enough. In a way we are like magicians. We don’t reveal the physical and mental anguish we endure in pursuing the job. The mail appears in the box or pops through the slot.

In a way, I really like the job. After the hubbub at the office, I load the truck, scan my time, and take on the responsibility of a large truck full of federally protected property. No one bothers me or wonders where I am until later I the afternoon, when I have to report my estimated time of return to the office. Other than that, it’s all up to me. The USPS trusts me to do what I’m supposed to do.

Underway on the route, I don’t have time to think of things. The mail takes all my attention. It is the only job I’ve ever worked that demands complete presence of mind. A wayward thought or drift of consciousness makes me lose my place. I have to stop, remember where I am. What address did I just deliver? What is the next address? Am I on the right street? Is this 93rd Street or 93rd Terrace?

So, there are no poems as I meander with purpose through these suburbs. No ideas for stories or essays. Just physical labor and focus on what the address of the next letter, magazine, catalogue, and package.

When I get home at night, I put my aching feet up and wander around the channels, looking for something interesting, something that will transport me to another realm. I fiddle on the phone, scroll through the social media, check the E-mail. At promptly 9 p.m., I take my medicines, the ones that help keep my head from the loop at the end of the rope. An hour later, I climb under the covers for a half hour of reading. Sleepy or not, I turn the light out at 10:30 for at least eight hours of rest.

I sleep well. Seventeen to 20 miles of carrying mail does the trick. I have good dreams, no nightmares. I wake rested.

And then I sit there on the edge of the bed.

I have lived a life of wonderment, scaling mountains and walking plains, living in foreign countries, studying the nuances and details of history and literature. Does all that—the thousands of books, essays, histories; the experiences of jobs, lovers, and families; the careers I’ve mastered and left behind—l lead to this particular moment? What have I accomplished? After all, I went through all that to end up a postman, a carrier of messages?

It’s not that I don’t see the worth of my work. It’s an important job and I take pride in being a public servant. That’s what keeps me going. It has to.

I always knew I was in for a life of work. Not being able to settle on one thing meant that I would have no pension, no time of rest. My writing has brought no fame. No royalties are going to snatch me from the jaws of poverty and regret. I have only this moment, looking at the clock, listening to my wife’s sleeping sounds. Do I go on for another day?

I constantly ponder what my life would have been like if I had stuck to something. The rewards would have been enormous. I might not be looking at working for someone else until I’m dead. Had I put my wanderlust aside and concentrated on sitting behind that desk, my daughter could have gone to art school, my son to university. Virginia would not be working two jobs. I might, in five or so years, have the time to travel.

Every morning, my past decision and indecision weigh on me. The task before me seems too heavy. Those 17 miles I have to carry that day seem endless. I don’t know that I’ll be able to face it. This is not my life’s calling, much like every other job I’ve had. Only this time, there is no quitting. I have to keep the lights on.

And it strikes me that I’ve reached the age of irrelevance. My doctorate means little to nothing in the job market. All those experiences are obstacles to gainful employment. When people look at my resume, they often comment on what an interesting life I’ve had before the show me to the door.

Then, as I stand from the edge of the bed, I realize that none of that means anything to the Postal Service either. The only thing that counts is putting the mail into the right box or slot. I am a warm body and warm bodies are for carrying mail.

Maybe someday, I will look back on years at the Post Service with some satisfaction. I did something good and meaningful. But right now, I feel that the job is just temporary, a thing to carry me over to where I’m supposed to be.

That’s the way I’ve always felt. I might get a handle on that someday. Right now, I just have to get from the bed to the office.

I leave my doubts at the alarm clock. I keep my head down. I carry the mail.

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2 Comments

  1. Jeffrey Gardner Jeffrey Gardner

    My dear old friend Patrick, welcome to the world everyone else is living in.
    Your current experiences have led to question everything you have done in the past and ponder whether you did all that you could do to achieve the best living that the world has to offer.(just like the rest of us.)

    I wake up at 2am most mornings to start my day. At 57 years old my body is screaming at my head saying ‘go back to sleep’, but my work ethic is saying ‘ get your ass up and go do what you have to do, and get it done’.
    I believe you are on the same track as most Americans with a work ethic: Courage, fortitude, will power and a sense of right and wrong are the building blocks of every good career, or current JOB.

    All of your past experiences have led you to where you are today.

    Much like I asked you years ago by the campfire on stateline road, drinking beer and contemplating life,’what good is going to come from writing about history?’ Well, to you it has meant everything. It has led you to writing about every detail of your lifetime of experiences for others to enjoy. And we do!
    It should have given you a sense of worth for your life- I mean, your travels that you have experienced and wrote about were, and are, very important to you. The education that you received, and the hardships you prevailed through to achieve that education, was, and is, important to you.

    The hard times you, and your family, persevered through whilst looking for employment: a testament to courage, strength and commitment- a lesson from Jobe!

    You, Sir, are living the same kind of life that the rest of us hard working Americans, and I applaud you for your fortitude and perseverance’s through life. Keep up the good work my friend.

  2. Dear Patrick,
    Thank you for writing and sharing your latest essay “Head down. Carry the mail”. I read it early this morning. Your words and daily example of “Head down. Carry the mail.” touch my heart. They get through my defenses and remind me that I have a fellow sojourner out there who I sense would laugh and empathize with me when I shared some of my “experiences”. I want you to know that I hear and see you through your vulnerable words. I have purchased, read, and been blessed by your first two books. I don’t know if we will ever meet in person, but I am so grateful that I’ve been able to meet you through your gifted words. How you are hanging in there and doing your best in the moment is an inspiration for me to do the same.

    A friend,

    Keith

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