mardi, janvier 08, 2008

For General Delivery

Just after the holidays, I went to the main post office in downtown Minneapolis. It is a stunningly beautiful, wonderful and amazing art deco building along the Mississippi riverfront. If you’re ever in downtown Minneapolis, and you have any interest in historic buildings or art deco, you absolutely must see it.

I was there to mail a few packets prior to a meeting that Mrs. Duf and I had downtown. I walked in, and I stood in a line labeled “general delivery.” I’m embarrassed to say that I thought that was the line for me because I was just mailing some packets.

I’ll confess that I noticed that the customers were different than the customers I typically see in the post offices I frequent in St. Anthony Park and at the airport.

When I reached the front of the line and then the calendar, I presented my envelopes to be mailed, and the clerk politely indicated that I was in the wrong line.

I walked along the lengthy main corridor toward the line I was supposed to be in, and as I made my way, it became clear to me what “general delivery” meant.

General delivery is the place you go to receive your mail when you don’t have an address.

The general delivery line was extra busy, because it was early in the month, and checks had just been sent.

It was a reminder to me that the struggles that middle-class Americans face (the burdens of navigating stressful and expensive holidays, the trappings of the material life) are small and ridiculous compared to the struggles that others face.

This post office visit reminded me of an interesting exercise that my dear friend shared with me last year. It set forth standards that were designed to indicate whether you identify with the wealthy, the middle class, or the poor.

For the wealthy, it articulated standards like: you have a favorite restaurant in multiple cities in Europe, or you own more than a few pieces of original art, etc.

For the middle class it noted things like: you take annual vacations, and you know how to get your children into college and little league.

For the poor: you know who to call if your power is about to be shut off, or you know how to get care if you’re sick but lack insurance.

Walking through the inventory, I was not surprised to find that I solidly identified with the middle class. I was a bit shocked that I more closely identified with the wealthy than I did with the poor. I have favorite restaurants in cities all over the United States, but not in Europe (yet). I do own original art a few pieces, but I typically buy one a year. I have no clue where to go for help when times are hard.

For good or bad, it is the type of thing I tend to think about when, from time to time, circumstance gives me a gentle reminder.

You might have a day (like we did yesterday) when you’re tempted to complain about the $350 December utility bill that just arrived in the mail at your home address. And on those days it might be helpful to remember that someone else might be complaining about how long the line is for general delivery mail.