Unless I have one or two items and I am in a huge hurry, I usually choose not to do self-checkout at the store. I wouldn’t call myself the kindest, most compassionate person, but I do believe that the human interaction is important, and I try to make it count by being polite and looking people in the eye. That doesn’t mean I always do that whole human interaction thing right – I am sometimes too short with my students, I don’t go with the flow as much as I ought to, I can let things build up and then explode (see: the Juno incident), and I am too cynical and sarcastic for my own good.
But sometimes I get those things right. Sometimes I am able to be human with people – the cashier at the checkout counter, the person in line with me. Often, a bad interaction can take on a life of its own and ruin my mood, change my attitude about an entire day. Less often (so it feels more like a gift), those small interactions take a life of their own and brighten my day, my week. They live on past the very small chunk of time they inhabited, and I run over and over them in my mind until they are like smooth, comforting pebbles that remind me that I don’t always fail at this whole “being human” thing.
When we lived in our second apartment, we had a mailman named Mario. He had a wonderful smile, complete with gold teeth. I was in graduate school, so I was often home when he would deliver the mail, walking right up to our door. We would chat about the weather and about our families. He took care of our mail when we were going to be out of town. If I was baking, I always shared with him. We left him a present on Mario Day (which is today, March 10 – Mar10). What do you call the people like that in your life? Mario felt like a friend. He brightened my day, and I hoped that I (or at least my cookies) brightened his. I was sad when we moved, which sounds silly, but it’s true. I was sad to leave my friend, our mailman. I think of those interactions, and it feels like a gift of grace.
A few weeks ago, I was pulling into our driveway and I saw that the mailman was walking up to our door to leave a package. When he saw me pulling in, he started carrying it over to the car instead, and I rolled down the window to thank him. As he moved towards the car, he started smiling at me, and I, grinning ear-to-ear, called out, “MARIO!” He said, “I thought I recognized your names!” We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me he’d recently taken over our route. When Mike came home, I was bubbling over with joy. Mario remembered us, so maybe that grace, those chats on our sunny doorstep meant something to him, too. Maybe it wasn’t just me who remembered him so fondly. Maybe, for once, I had gotten it right.
The first Sunday of Lent, we read this scripture from Isaiah:
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.”
I am often stingy and unfair and selfish. I am not good at taking time out of my own life to think of others. But I have been making an effort at living in community lately – spending a snowy morning with the neighbors, taking time to hang out with Alisa, chatting with Mario on our sunny lawn. And this is God’s promise – that when we take time for others, when we fight injustice, he will turn on the lights, he will help us repair that which is broken. Lent is a time to examine our own brokenness and take it to God. And he does things like this: returning an old friend, reminding me that I do get it right every now and then. Surprising me with the idea that I just might be able to learn how to get things right a little bit more often.
Happy Mario Day to the best mailman in the world. We are happy to have you back in our lives again, my friend.