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The postman abides the turning of the seasons

The weather turns and the postman looks forward to this time of year. Yes, there will be rains and late-season snows. But the promise of sun, warmth, and gentle breezes sifts through even the darkest of days.

This time of year is not the easiest for me, however. Spring has always been difficult, something to do with the lengthening of the days and the sharpness of the light. In the past, depression and mania plagued me in the spring. It was always a time of new beginnings and obsessions. I’ve taken up new hobbies and avocations, learning them and mastering them before moving on to the next thing that caught my eye or imagination.

Alternatively, it almost always meant bouts of bone-crushing despair. The best I could do was poke my head ouf the door and see if the sun was shining. Like Punxsutawney Pete, I’d duck back inside if the sun was shining or venture out in the dim grayness of a rainy day. It was in the spring eleven years ago when I almost strung myself up in the basement. Most people who suffer seasonal depression get it in the fall. But I’ve learned in my adventures in psychiatric medicine that a significant number of us feel it in the spring.

I chalk it up to this: Some of us had to hunt and seek fire and secure the cave in the winter when everyone else went into a sort of human hibernation. When the spring came, it was the winter-keepers’ time to take it easy and put their feet up in the cave, our useful skills stowed to the next solstice. Thus, most people the seasons affect feel the pull of the blanket and bed when the days grow short and the rest of us want to stay in bed until well into the summer.

But my present occupation does something that only work in the outdoors can do. It absorbs the peaks and valleys of mood and emotion and eases the mental illness that ails me. That’s the way it’s always been. I get a little uncomfortable behind a desk and wind up putting in miles and miles on the bike. Or take on work in construction. Or walk to Montana. And so on.

These days, my job is a daily marathon. While it was much harder and longer for the year and a half I was an assistant, for the last eleven months, I’ve had my route, a mere 13.5- to 14.5-mile trek I make five or six days a week. It’s enough to keep me in line and on track.

A good friend of mine says, “Patrick is always better when he’s outside.” So much is true. Though I have to slug it out in the rain or snow or cold or heat, there’s something to making a living out in the air. And it’s mostly clean air, my route being in a suburb and mostly away from busy arteries. As the season turns, I know I’ll have more days in the sun and warm than in the rain and cold. Plus, I’ll be getting on the route when it’s light and finishing long before dark.  

The brightest thing about the change in seasons besides the greening of the landscape and the blooming of flowers is that people will be outside. Nothing makes the job of being a postman better than running into people who I know by name but have never met in person.

People are always happy to see the letter carrier. At least it seems that way to me. I think I’ve only come across on person in the last two-plus years I’ve worked at the Post Office who wasn’t happy to come across me. It was a rainy day and I was working someone else’s route (assistants work many different routes). I came on a house where, at first, I couldn’t find the letter slot or mailbox. I searched and searched and was about to give up when I spied a dinky, narrow mail slot just next to the door. It was “paper day,” the day when we deliver the grocery ads. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the mail and the paper and the large envelopes in the slot. The stuff just wouldn’t fit. As I struggled, the man opened the door, growled at me, indicated the mail slot and slammed the door. So, I shoved and crammed and left a wad of wet mail in the slot. Then, I ran away.

Since then, I always think of that guy when Mr. Long meets me at my truck to give me his outgoing mail. He’s also on my mind when Mr. McCallister shouts a greeting to me a block away. I rummage the bottle of water out of the cooler that Ms O’Shea leaves on her porch for me and I think of that man not taking his mail from me and making me stuff it in his malfunctioning slot.

Sometimes I think of him when I’m walking the hill on Buena Vista Street. I find myself oddly embarrassed that I couldn’t make him happy, that he just wouldn’t take the mail, that he proved my incompetence as a newly minted letter carrier. I find I put a little more effort into my step, move a couple of paces faster for a few houses.

And it’s that way with all the regrets and past embarrassments and lost opportunities that come into my mind as I walk my route. They are hard to bear, almost spiritual afflictions. I grit my teeth, step up my pace, resolve to do better in the future.

Then, they fade away in the physical effort I put in to deal with them. I suppose that’s why I like the sun and warm most. I’m not suffering the cold and wind. The rain isn’t distracting me and slowing me down. It’s pure exercise, just me and my fight with myself taken out in bodily exertion.

And when I walk out on the other side, the day is over. I’m headed home, where I can put up my aching feet and forget what distressed me that day. Tomorrow will present more challenges, psychic and physical. But it too will be over soon enough. I’d better enjoy it while I can.

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