Audio: Stamps and Philosophy
Today is my Father’s birthday. He’s no longer with us, and today I wish he was here more than most. That aside, it has dawned on me that he was born in February which is Black History Month. This was a later development and had nothing to do with my dad, but as I try and compose a post I bring it up.
I think Black History Month is misnamed, and I think it’s inadequate, and sad that we demarcate a mere month to the contributions of African Americans. It should be American Black History Month, and the history should be better known.
The other day I was at the Post Office, a place that comforts me for some reason, even if the line is long. I was there to send a registered letter, it was a letter to sever a business relationship and I was very anxious about the whole process.
As I waited, a tense exchange occurred between a white woman and a black man. The woman was a bit brusque about where the line ended. The gentleman informed her that he was at the end of the line, and she would need to wait like the rest of us. Perhaps, it was my discomfort to do what I was there to do, or my general lack of confrontational skills, but the situation was diffused both by humor and the man’s ability to stand his ground and to do it in a way that wasn’t personal. As the line moved, the two continued to talk, they opened up to one another, a micro-friendship bloomed. The man held the woman’s spot in line as she left to feed her parking meter.
The woman returned and they started talking about, of all things, anxiety. I was eavesdropping like a banshee and I heard a quote that sounded like it was spoken in my ear. “Anxiety robs you of joy.” I was wound up over a business decision and forgot to be happy about a better opportunity. A small thing, but those words stuck in my head and spoke directly to part of my soul. Worry has been a constant in my life and it seemed to be such a waste in that moment.
Later I told a friend about the quote and he said, “it wasn’t an accident, that you heard that conversation.” I don’t know where I stand on the whole universe speaking to you, or God whispering to you, but it would be dense of me to miss the wisdom of the moment.
What does this have to do with my dad’s birthday or Black History Month? I might have lost that thread, but I think I can bring it full circle. I made my way to the head of the line, playing that game of which of the three windows will open up for me. There was a an Asian woman and an Asian man, and the third window had an African American woman. The chime and number blinked on the screen telling me which window was ready to serve, I wound up at the black woman’s window. I had my forms and she processed my mail. She spoke the automatic up-sell line that all postal workers utter at the end of a transaction, “Do you need stamps?”
“Yes,” I said, and she pulled open her drawer. As I looked in the drawer, I saw the Liberty Bell Forever stamps and some other commemorative stamps, and then I saw a sheet and asked, “Can I have the Rosa Parks stamps?” There was a short pause and an unspoken shared smile, “You sure can,” she said perhaps surprised that a white guy would ask, or maybe just glad to sell an important stamp. I paid, told her to have a good day, and felt a certain peace wash over me. I had sent the letter, I had absorbed a nugget of wisdom, and I, and we, celebrated a brave woman who started a revolution, by standing her ground.
The Post Office is taking some hits lately, and maybe in some ways so has America, but our strength is in the people, the people who work at the Post Office, the people who need the Post Office, and the strength of one person like Rosa Parks, who remind us when we most need to be reminded, that our humanity must not be given to the powers that divide us. We have to stand up for each other and what’s right. And try to make each other proud as a people. That’s what those stamps are about, a man on the moon, a scientific breakthrough, and an African American woman getting her due in the history of her country.
I think my dad would appreciate such a sentiment. Happy Birthday, Dad.