elderly · Leaning In

At the Post Office

Painting at the Fenimore Art Museum:  Village Post Office, 1873. Thomas Waterman Wood
Painting at the Fenimore Art Museum: Village Post Office, 1873. Thomas Waterman Wood

I stood in a very long line at the Post Office yesterday.

Post Office line definitions for a small town:

  • No line = go directly to the counter
  • Brief wait = someone already at the counter
  • Line = someone waiting, someone at the counter
  • Long line = 2 someones waiting, someone at the counter
  • Very long line = more than 2 people waiting in addition to the person at the counter.

Yesterday, when I first got there, a young couple was at the counter mailing several packages. They held whispered consultations with each other about every package. I think the cost was more than they expected. When the clerk announced, “That’ll be $79.50,” they looked at each other briefly before she swiped a card and they were done.

I still had two people ahead of me, but three or four people now stood behind me in this very, very long line.

The elderly woman at the front of the line approached the counter. She placed two packages on it.

“This one is FedEx,” the clerk said. “I can’t take it here, but you can mail this other one.”

“What?” the woman asked.

The clerk spoke slowly as she repeated in a louder voice, “This package goes to FEDEX. You have to take it down to THE COMMONS. But I can help you with THIS PACKAGE.”

I couldn’t hear what the elderly woman said, but I watched the postal clerk’s face soften.

“Let’s look at this one,” the clerk said, holding the FedEx mailer. “I don’t handle these but I think we can figure it out.”

She read aloud the instructions on the FedEx slip.

The man behind me groaned and left.

The woman ahead of me looked at me, shrugged, and followed him with her eyes out the door.

“You need to sign HERE,” the clerk was saying, “before you put it in the DROP BOX.”

The elderly woman said something.


The woman nodded and asked something.


The door opened and closed several times over the course of this, each time bringing a wintry draft. I could feel the people behind me shuffling their feet and shifting packages between arms.

The clerk was remarkable — so pleasant, so patient, so unperturbed by the growing line. She took care of the package that was being mailed postal service and reminded the woman again where she needed to take her FedEx package, before turning her attention to the next person.

In this year of “Leaning In“, I knew that I needed to be more like the postal clerk. Too often I have been like the man who left, feeling the tick-tick-tick of time slipping away.

I don’t have time for this, I tell myself — but, really, what is so pressing?

Life is too short to rush through it.

Yesterday I learned something from an elderly woman who didn’t understand the difference between FedEx and USPS, and a postal clerk who took the time to help her.

I wonder what I can learn today if I slow down.


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