It was a beautifully sunny day outside but the disposition indoors was not. The air was thick with the tension of people driven by a strong need for efficiency, straightforwardness, and personal justice. I had forgotten how time stands still in the post office. Few things there feel straightforward when you’ve got a frail package in an odd shape that needs to arrive at the other side of the world yesterday, and no I’m not willing to pay that much to make that happen but could you somehow just write “expedite” on the outside for free? Few things feel straightforward there, which means few things feel efficient. Which means that some will violate the justice of a line that everyone must wait in to jump in front with “just a quick question, sorry.” You are reduced to staring at the back of peoples’ outfits, eavesdropping on the conversations at the windows, some pleasant and some inane, and making fast judgments about people.
Smiles waned. Arms crossed. Throats cleared. Sighs escaped. Strangers slowly connected with one another in mutual frustration and the growing desire to gang mob those who disregarded the line and scurried to an open clerk with mumbled apologies. I saw the cameras mounted in the corners of the post office and thought, how those cameras must capture the quiet worst of people, day after day, here in the US post office. I wondered if they caught me staring, ok well, glaring, too long at the man who jumped in front with his “quick question, sorry to interrupt.”
When I left, a memory surfaced of my experience with my summer internship at the International Services department of the American Red Cross during my public health grad school years. Our American team had traveled to the Dominican Republic to develop and conduct nutritional surveys among hurricane-affected communities in the DR. We had a 9:00AM meeting lined up with local leaders who worked with the World Health Organization and the Dominican Red Cross. By 10:30AM, it was still only the American team present in the conference room. Sometime close to noon, the Dominicans showed up with big smiles, firm handshakes and no apologies. My supervisor turned to me and said, “Welcome to Dominican time.” That was just their way. The American need for timeliness and efficiency was completely foreign to them. It was not an issue of disrespect or unprofessionalism. Their worldview was simply not like ours.
Sometimes my world becomes as small as a US post office and all of a sudden everyone is at everyone else’s throat. Which is ironic because in theory, the post office tells me that the world is a big place, beyond me, beyond us and our efficiency-driven culture. I don’t know that my personality type would allow me to live as lax as a Dominican. But at the very least, when I find myself being overtaken by the muted but heavy tension in the post office, I fight to remember that I don’t have to give into it, feed into it, become a bit of it. Not at all. God is on His throne, the sun still rises, and the world is so much bigger than this.
Set me free.