It’s Martin Luther King Day. I hate Martin Luther King Day.
It’s not because I have anything against the man. Him I like, as well as what he said and his valiant efforts to bring some peace and equality–maybe peace through equality?–into the world. No, what I don’t like is that its designation as a federal holiday means we don’t get any mail.
In saying that, I feel a bit like those old fogies on my sons’ paper routes whose only reason for getting up in the morning, apparently, was to read the newspaper. When the paper was late because of winter storm, press break-down, or a delivery truck flat tire, my sons bore the brunt of their very nasty ill temper. And they all insisted they be the first on the route to get that paper, a nice piece of illogic that none of them could seem to recognize. Get a life, I wanted to tell them.
I assure you, my day isn’t defined by what comes in the mailbox. Whether it comes at all is another thing. Sundays I understand, because even I refuse to work on Sunday. But a holiday where only a select few get the day off? What’s with that? Isn’t it more important that the mail go through?
Today, for instance, was the day the weekly letter to my mother was supposed to go out. Last week’s weekly letter, that is. Every Thursday or Friday, like clockwork, I send my 92-year-old mother a letter. In a pinch, when I’m running behind, the letter goes out on Saturday. She still gets it early the following week.
Last week, for various reasons, the completed letter didn’t make it to the Saturday mailbox in time. That’s OK, I thought; I’ll get it out Monday and it will still be there mid-week. Oops, nope, guess again. It’s one of those no-mail days. If I were like those old fogies from my kids’ paper-route days, I’d be calling my postman and complaining long and loud.
Lucky for him, I’m more sensible. Doesn’t mean I like it any better. My whole day has been one of false starts: heard a truck rumble past, thought “mail!” and then remembered. Got the dog dressed up to walk in this frigid weather, grabbed the mailbox key–and remembered. Got excited about our parish directories that were to be mailed out today–but nope, that’s not going to happen.
If I’m brutally honest, I’ll admit that there’s never anything very exciting waiting in that box. A letter from my mother, once a week. A letter from an incarcerated friend, now and then. Packages, as often as I’ve found something irresistible during online browsing. Other than that, it’s catalogs like crazy because every online merchant in the universe seems to have my address; incessant letters from Charter cable which can’t seem to accept the fact that we don’t have a TV for anything other than watching Netflix DVDs or streaming; credit card offers, solicitations, the odd bill now and then. And did I mention catalogs?
How often I get good mail isn’t the point. It’s the possibility of getting good mail. It’s that wonderful feeling of anticipation, like buying a lottery ticket knowing you’ll probably never win but savoring that tingly, anything-can-happen feeling that you might win. This might be the day when I get an unexpected piece of mail, like a real letter from an old friend or a dear relative, or a package I forgot I ordered, or–better yet–that someone ordered for me.
Every morning we wake to a brand new day with nothing written on it, and anything can happen, I’m fond of telling people. The same is true of mailboxes. They may sit there cold and empty in that dim morning light, but there’s always the hope that they’ll fill with a delightful surprise when the mailman goes by.
But not today. Today is Martin Luther King Day. I have a dream, he said. I’m sure it didn’t include a vast, coast-to-coast sea of empty and silent mailboxes. He was about bigger and brighter things than that.
RIP, Rev. King.