Yesterday, I think I just wanted to be angry. Not enraged but pissy. Ready to fight. Four hours of sleep a night for four straight nights will do that to a person. Add to that four days in a row in which my mail was neither picked up nor delivered can exacerbate that anger. I was a zombie, heavy-lidded and singly focused on blood, when I called the post office.
“Hi, this is Syndy Sweeney and I haven’t gotten my mail for four days. And I get that there’d be no mail on Wednesday because of the storm, but since then? I don’t understand why. My roads were plowed on Thursday.”
“Can the carrier get up to your mailbox without getting stuck?”
“I don’t see why not. The road is scraped to the edge, I cleaned out the area in front of the box—twice!—and there were tire tracks right in front of the box this morning…I’m assuming they’re from the carrier.”
“Well, our carriers sit in the middle of their vehicles and need to be able to reach an arm out. If they can’t do that without getting stuck, then they can’t deliver the mail. She might have pulled up to your box but couldn’t access it.”
“But I plowed and shoveled four times since the storm!” I whined and seethed, while the back of my brain simultaneously thought: What horse shit! and How many times has the number four come up? Maybe I should play it?
I continued, “Well, if this was a problem, why couldn’t the carrier pull into my driveway, knock on the door and let me know she couldn’t access the mailbox?”
“Well, the carrier on your route is a sub.” What the hell does that have to do with anything? She’s still an employee of the post office. She still knows how to deliver mail, doesn’t she? She could still exert a bit of common courtesy.
“If you give me your name and number—the carrier is not back from her route yet—when she gets back, I’ll call you and let you know what the problem is. Okay?”
“Yes.” And the polite part of me that wins out even when I’m pissed, added ma’am.
I pushed the Off button of my cordless with the same vinegar it would take to slam down an old-fashioned phone but without the same satisfaction. I literally mumbled: You want a snow-free road. I’ll give you a snow-free road, god damn it! Sighing heavily, I pulled on long underwear and my deranged and paint-spattered work pants whose crotch has already been stitched up twice; my husband’s old winter coat and too-big face mask, reversible in hunting orange and camouflage; and my ski boots and dainty lady’s gloves because that was all I could find in the melee on the foyer floor. I didn’t dare check out my reflection: I knew I already looked ridiculous.
Snow blower and shovel in hand, I rushed down the driveway, knowing absolutely that I was right: the mail carrier was a lazy, inconsiderate idiot. It was a wonderful feeling knowing I was right…until the moment I realized I wasn’t.
Maybe it was the cold chewing through my layers that made me pause because I looked at the area surrounding my mailbox with different eyes. Sure, I had cleaned around it, but honestly, only the immediate area. Since the mailbox sits back from the road a bit, what the plows and I had created was a horseshoe—an unlucky one. Sure, it was accessible by foot but a car would have to fold itself in half to get close to it.
I began swearing again, my face hot and red under the mask. For the fifth time, I cut through the igloo. When I was finished, embarrassed and angry at myself now, I said, “She’d really have to be an idiot if she can’t deliver the mail now.” I went inside and stripped down and climbed into my pajama bottoms—the teal ones full of multi-colored polka dots. My clown pants, I call them: how appropriate.
Still angry and hungry to boot, I chopped my way through two onions and two cloves of garlic. They hit a pan of olive oil. I added oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and stirred lightly. And with the promise of a good meal spritzing the air, my anger calmed. I knew what I had to do: apologize.
Still resisting, I thought, Well, she said she’s going to call when the carrier returns from her route. But I countered myself out loud, “You call her. This is what you do. You were wrong. And you need to take responsibility.”
So, I did. I picked up the phone and apologized to the woman at the post office. I told her I saw it from the point-of-view of the mail carrier and that I took care of the problem. I mentioned again how I wished the carrier had let me know but after hearing how I was one of 500 people on a rural route and how there were many others in my same situation, I decided to let it go (we were not going to agree on this point, so why belabor it?). Finally, we had a good laugh and I apologized once again.
Was it easy to say, I was wrong and I’m sorry? My ego wants to say it wasn’t but the truth is it was. Once I got over my embarrassment, once I was able to shut up for a moment, step back and remove any emotional attachment to the situation, it was. Normally, it is: I worked many years checking myself whenever I overreacted. I practiced: taking responsibility for my actions, words and emotions have become very important to me; apologizing is now second nature. But, if I do become so out-of-sorts like I was yesterday, so ready to deliver my exhausted and angry wrath, thankfully, it does not last long. Really, yesterday was just an opportunity to remember who I am and what is important to me. And what is important is creating a great life for myself, in which I learn and grow, and leave behind as little damage as possible as I do so. The woman at the post office did not deserve my anger. The strange thing was, after I apologized, not only did the woman reveal personal bits about her life, not only did she end up calling me reasonable, I could hear her smiling. We really did end our conversation laughing.
And to me, that is the biggest benefit of being able to take responsibility: sometimes the simple act of saying I’m sorry is that we leave others whole, well and smiling.