Twice in the past couple of weeks I've gotten stuck in long lines in our local post office.
Twice, I had a wonderful time standing there.
It's definitely disheartening to see a line snaking out the door from the post office proper into the cramped lobby, with perhaps twenty people waiting, each one clutching half a dozen packages to weigh, price, and ship, with one - yes, ONE - window open. I debate leaving and coming back another time - but what guarantee do I have that another time will be better? And I have my heart set on crossing off this postal errand today. I debate driving to another, larger post office on the outskirts of town, where lines are reputed to be shorter, but it's a ten-to-fifteen-minute drive each way, so how much time would I save, really?
I was having these thoughts in line two weeks ago when I noticed the person in front of me was someone I had worked with in the University of Colorado Philosophy Department's Center for Values and Social Policy when I arrived in Boulder back in the 1990s; I hadn't seen her in years. "Jackie!" I exclaimed. "Claudia!" she replied. We talked long and hard and fast and joyously for the entire 25-minute wait.
Then as I was preparing to depart, errand accomplished, I heard another voice: "Claudia?" A woman who looked vaguely familiar had just joined the end of the still-long line. "Barb?" It was someone else who had worked with Jackie and me in the philosophy department all those years ago. Barb had moved to Utah many years before; I had no idea she had recently moved back to Boulder. We all fell into each others' arms. And, to complete this tale of postal serendipity, why was Barb there in line at the post office? Because she was mailing off a special card to Sara, who had also worked with us, and is now a professor in the philosophy department at University of Washington. Jackie and I scribbled our greetings to her on the back of the envelope.
So last week, when I saw an even longer line at the post office, I didn't despair. First, I remembered my oft-broken commitment to myself to stand on one foot for two minutes a day - two minutes for each foot, or four minutes total. Spending four minutes a day in this way is supposed to make a huge difference in maintaining balance and avoiding falls as we age. It's probably the single most important thing I can do for myself at this time in my life, given a family history of falls. But it's such a boring thing to do! I mean to do it every morning as I heat up the water for my Swiss Miss hot chocolate in the microwave, but I almost never do, as I'd rather tackle something more visibly productive, like unloading the dishwasher. I could do it when I watch TV, but I almost never watch TV, and if I do, I'd rather be curled up on the couch with a cat or dog on my lap. But it's the absolutely perfect thing to do while standing in line.
I began to balance on my right foot. To make conversation with my line-mates, I explained what I was doing. As we started to chat, one of them squinted at me and said, "Do you teach philosophy?" Why, yes, I do. "I took your class!" she said. As we talked, I began to remember her, from perhaps a dozen years ago, as she told me that she still had the paper she wrote for me on Plato, presenting her argument in the form of a Platonic dialogue, and how I had pronounced it "charming." She's now a professor at CU herself, teaching in the humanities program in the College of Engineering, with a master's degree in piano performance and a doctorate in musicology, as well as a three-year-daughter and another child on the way (the reason she declined to do the one-foot-balancing as she waited). The 45-minute wait flew by.
Later today I'm off to the post office again. I no longer dread long lines. I can balance on one foot as I wait and increase my chances of a long and happy life. And odds are that I'll meet up with someone fascinating as I shift my weight from one foot to the other. After all, right now I'm two for two.