“I’ve got one addressed to you on Wright Street, Paul.” The postman laid the little stack of mail on the counter at the store, looking at me expectantly. My response was quick and sarcastic. “Well, if they don’t know that I haven’t lived there for ten years, it’ll be junk mail. Just throw it in the trashcan there.” He laughed, but replied, “It is First Class Mail. You might want to look at it just in case.” We joked a moment more about the lists that are bought and sold to provide the annoying advertisers with destination addresses for their mobile trash. He picked up the outgoing mail and headed out the door once more.
After he left, I grabbed the suspect envelope and prepared to toss it away. The return address showed an appropriately generic name of “Shareowner Services”, pretty much guaranteeing that I would be placing it in the circular file very shortly. But, as I examined the delivery address, I noticed that it was marked “Roth Rollover Account” and my legal name was used correctly in the address. This is not a normal occurrence for most of the junk mail I receive; the majority being marked to some person with a first name of “Current” and a last name of “Occupant”, or worse still, “Our Friend at:”. Considering the correct labeling, I opted to open the envelope.
As I slit open the flap, my mind wanders a bit. This is really the quintessential example of living in a small community, isn’t it? It has been nearly ten years since we moved out of that drafty, old Victorian home across town. A lot has happened since then. I’ve acquired a new son…well, a son-in-law, really, but the process of bringing him into our world cost about the same as having a child at the hospital. Both of my children have graduated from college. I have picked up four beautiful grandchildren and a few gray hairs somewhere along the way. I can’t begin to enumerate the changes in family and pets and even in me personally. Ten years is a long time. Yet, without a mark on the envelope telling them that I’m no longer at that address, without a yellow label to be found bearing the forwarding address (long expired), the envelope is delivered right into my hands.
I like small-town life. I’m not sure I could make it in a big city, going day after day without seeing a single person I know outside of my home, or workplace, or church. I love walking through the hardware store and finding friends to joke with or taking a walk around town with the Lovely Lady and having folks honk as they pass, not because they’re making fun of my spindly, white legs (although they could), but just because they recognize us and want to acknowledge that. I’ve heard this described as the “big fish in a small pond” syndrome. I’m pretty sure in my circumstance, it’s more like being an average-sized fish in that small body of water, but the result is still pleasant and satisfying. For some, it would be constricting, but I like that folks know who I am and what I stand for. I’m pretty sure that if I step out of line in my personal life, someone would stop me and give me a piece of their mind, and that’s not a bad thing, either. Accountability is a way of life in a small town, another advantage of the community mindset, if you ask me.
I don’t want you to think that I’m some arrogant snob who craves attention, because that’s not who I am at all. I don’t need to stand out in the crowd, I just need to be aware that there are people who know me and who care about me. It’s what all of us yearn for. Sure, a pat on the back, a commendation for a job well done, once in awhile is nice. Sometimes, we really need that, but this is about a sense of belonging, of being part of something. The paradox of living in a big city is that, although in the midst of a huge population, frequently individuals are lost and lonely, seeking in vain for human companionship. At the same time, many who live in small communities across the land are surrounded by large and viable support networks, people who know them and who will come to their aid at a moment’s notice. I’m not putting down city living, but I’m more than a little partial to life in this particular small town, thanks!
As the fleeting thoughts of small-town realities passed, I opened the flap of the envelope. I didn’t throw away the contents, either. It was a check…no, not one of those fake checks, the cashing of which obligates the payee to a larger purchase, not even one of those irritating “down-payment” checks from the local used-car dealership. It was a real check, for the sum of twenty dollars and some-odd cents; the result of a class action lawsuit against a large investment firm I used for the safekeeping of my retirement fund all those years ago. My small-town existence paid off to the tune of twenty dollars! In other circumstances, I would never have seen that money. So, in a day or two, the Lovely Lady and I will spend a little time and enjoy a meal at the local Mexican restaurant, compliments of this small town. I would be willing to bet that we’ll spend a few moments visiting with folks we know there. I’ll walk out realizing that the payoff for living in a great little community like this is well more than that measly twenty dollars.
Do you recognize the blessing it is to live in the place you’ve been led to, surrounded by the people whom you need and who need you? It may not be an idyllic little community, may not even be a desirable location by any reasonable standards. To be in the place where one belongs, no matter the situation, is nothing to belittle. I love the apostle’s attitude, expressed so succinctly, all those many years ago. “I have learned in whatever circumstance I find myself, therewith to be content.”
I’m working on the contentment thing. While I’m trying to get that squared away, Mr. Postman, any more junk mail like that last one is welcome here anytime!
“I was walking along looking for somebody, and then suddenly I wasn’t anymore.”
(A.A. Milne~Author of the Pooh books~1882-1956)