Skip to content →

Maybe this is the right job

The second week of June a life-changing event took place. After four months at home due to a workplace injury, I returned to carrying mail.

I’ve had many jobs in my working life, which began at 13. Of all those workplaces, there was only one that gave me any kind of feedback that indicated what I did for a living was important. I worked as a journalist from 1995 until 2000. Those five years were great. It was the happiest time of my working life. Every week, I wrote articles about the community I lived in. I saw it as my job to tell people about themselves and the people and entities that affected them and their decisions.

That was it. Once it was gone—a corporation bought the paper and I don’t do well with corporation runts telling what to think and write—I thought the kudos, approval, and fight against the powerful were over.

Until I started carrying mail.

It seems a humble job, not much to it. Walk around and stuff mail into boxes and slots and drop packages on porches. I’ve described in previous essays that the work of a letter carrier is much more than that. What I haven’t told you, and on some level even failed to realize myself, is the kind of appreciation I get from the people I serve.

My mail and packages contain everything you can imagine, and some you can’t or won’t. I deliver personal messages among all that business mail. These are my pride and joy. There’s nothing like a real letter pulled from the mailbox, a something from someone who cares about you enough to go through the trouble of printing out a note, placing it in an envelope, and buying and sticking a stamp to it.

Medicines, personal items, consumer goods. They are in my satchel or my truck to be delivered every day. I deliver live animals—chicks, grubs to feed them, and crickets for pet snakes, birds, and lizards. There are plants, perishable goods, and overseas letters, packages, and expresses among my deliveries. In what was a surprise to me, I delivered a package from Ukraine a couple months back and wondered what it’s like to be a postie in a war-torn country. Since, I’ve delivered dozens of letters and expresses from Ukraine. Wonders.

When I returned to work after my surgery, I found I delivered much more than miracles. One after another, my customers came out of their houses to welcome me back. It’s happened over the course of the last almost-three months. Nearly every day now, one or two people I deliver to stop me to introduce themselves and say how glad they are I’m recovering.

I know many of my 500+ customers. I always address them by their last names. In one way, it’s a sign of respect. I am a public servant. In another way, it’s conveys a kind of professional distance. I am a professional. I take pride in my work. I try to be accurate, on time, and polite. To many of my customers, I’m a kindly older man who takes a little pride in his appearance and demeanor. To others, I’m a nice guy who is the public-relations man for a quasi-governmental corporation that Americans in a time of strife like, regardless of where they stand. Divided we fall, except when it comes to the Postal Service.

What surprised me on my return to work was that people I’d never met in the two-and-some years I was their letter carrier knew who I was. They have seen me through the house windows, have observed me for the time I’ve been on my route. They are now coming out of their houses now to introduce themselves and ask me my name.

Just today, three people in different parts of the neighborhood I serve stopped me as I went by. I’d never seen them before. I only know the names that go with the addresses.

One woman was out mowing the neighbor’s grass. She turned off the mower and walked over with her hand out.

“You must be Patrick,” she said. “You know my husband, Phil. He thinks the world of you. So, do I. I could really tell the difference between when you were gone and when you returned. I’m so glad you’re back. You don’t always bring me good news, but you bring it on time and every day. I love that.”

She stepped forward and gave me a hug. It was a cool day today, slight breeze. The street had fallen strangely silent when she turned off the mower. We stood there a moment in her embrace. A bird called and the sound echoed off the tree canopy above.

Further on, a man was standing next to his car waiting for me.

“My wife has told me about you,” he said as I approached. “Patrick, right?”

“Yes. That’s me.”

“When you told us what we had to do to get straight on my magazine subscription—I love my magazine—that was the greatest thing in the world.” I had been bringing him his magazine every week though it was addressed to a different house. After I knocked on the door one day and talked to his wife, the magazine comes to the right address, whether I’m working or on my day off. “I also heard you were gone for a while. We are so happy you’re back.”

On the next street, I deliver to a house that doesn’t look lived in. The yard is tended. Flowers hang in baskets on the porch. But I had never seen anyone come or go from the house. The shades and curtains always cover the windows in a never-changing pattern. But as I came up to the porch, I noticed a woman I’d never seen watering the flowers out of a plastic pitcher. I make it a habit to let people know I’m coming up behind them. I called out in a quiet voice, addressing her as Ms.

“Well. thank you for being so gentle,” she said. “I would have jumped off the porch had you not announced yourself.”

I held out her mail. “This is all I have for you today, Ms ____.” I introduced myself as Patrick.

“That’s enough, Patrick. It’s great you’re back to work. I missed you. In fact, I thought you’d retired and were gone forever. I was so glad when I saw you in the front window again. You’re the best mailman I ever had.”

She put down the pitcher and shook my hand with both of hers.

This is what makes the job worth it. After all, it’s a hard job run by hard people who care only that the mail makes it into the boxes. They hardly know my name back at the office. They really don’t care. They keep track of me through all their surveillance hard- and software. They don’t care about my kids or wife or friends. I get the notion they only care about me as a cipher that gets run through a algorithm. They’re reading this right now (believe it or not). But that’s their job.

None of that matters when I hit the street and serve the people. I don’t care where they are on the political map. I don’t look into windows. I don’t judge the appearance of their houses and yards. I care about them as people.

And, as time moves forward, they care about me. Not as a family man. But as a person who goes through the hard work of making sure they get their medicines, consumer products, their good news and bad.

I really like that. To the point that I can say this is probably the best job for me right now. There are more years behind than ahead. It’s time for me to be a reliable, steady guy people can get along with.

Published in Uncategorized

One Comment

  1. Elaine Elaine

    There you are, Patrick. Our connections with each other is what it’s all about.

We all want to hear what you think.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.