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May 2019

June 2019

Junk Mail

Hyg0LSkuSxmeAeNTKZ2GQwI rip up a lot of things that come in the mail. I enjoy the tearing sound and am slightly annoyed at those mailings that anticipate this and try and force me to open the envelope by including plastic or some other material not easily torn. I just work harder.

I do have a slight tinge of guilt that accompanies the tearing. As much as the USPS has been criticized, it does an amazing job. In Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service, Devin Leonard reports that 300,000 USPS letter carriers deliver 513 pieces of mail every day. Every day. And somebody had to design this junk that comes my way, print it, sort it, load it on trucks or airplanes, and bring it to me. The letter carrier is the last link in a human chain. I should frame this mail. I should honor it.

But no.

This afternoon’s mail includes a report from the electrical utility that serves me telling me how I stand in regard to my neighbors: not well. Guzzling power here, apparently, which I blame on the cats shed fur clogging the HVAC intakes. Ok, so I opened that one.

Another is a blue newsprint letter from missionaries we do not support but who have been sending us newsletters for 25 years. I ripped it up, but out of guilt I read the half I retrieved, which was in broken sentences, which makes for interesting reading. I did catch the words faith, hope, and. . .well, I think love was on the other half, unretrieved.

“Make the smart stop. Get $70 off,” squealed a tire store flyer. Nope. I tire of slogans, pitch-singing advertisements.

God bless the letter carriers. Leonard reminds me that Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln were letter carriers back when they were mailmen. So was Walt Disney and Bing Crosby. So was writer William Faulkner, but he was fired. “I will be damned,” he said, “if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.”

I’m invited to a gourmet dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Oops, no, my son is. He’s 27, and the meal comes with a retirement planning pitch. He can wait on that. Then again, he’s been old since he was two. I retire it to the recycle bin.

Oh, here’s the other half of the blue newsletter from the missionaries we do not support. Let’s see, if I put them together I can read the whole thing. It makes sense now. Yet there’s something off kilter here: “When you agree with God’s Word, your success rate grows upward.” What kind of success is that?

Leonard says letter carriers by and large are satisfied with their jobs. “Their mailbags may be much lighter these days, but they still have their junk mail or ‘job security,’ as letter carriers call it,” he says. Well, I’m just glad I can support them. I hope that those who pick up the recycle bin feel likewise.

“Let us take that off your hands!” “20% off.” “#1 Selling Walk-In Tub.” Nope, not yet. 

“Be enchanted, Dazzled, and Smitten!” It’s a collectible crystal kitten with butterfly, “shimmering,” with an “unconditional, 365-day guarantee.” No, though this cat is a lot cheaper than my two living cats have proven to be. But don’t get me started.

There’s a letter from Donald J. Trump. Sorry, it’s marked “Personal and Confidential.” I can’t talk about it. But I can tell you that half the letter was better than the whole.

The NRA has offered me a preprinted membership card. I don’t own a firearm, though, as I have been told I am not responsible enough and too distracted and absent-minded. I don’t disagree.

“Free wine chiller and beach day set. FREE.” I don’t drink wine. “Sun + sand. You + us. It all adds up.” I’m not a math whiz but I don’t think that necessarily adds up: you plus us could be a lot of people.

President Lyndon Johnson’s Postmaster General, Lawrence O’Brien said in a 1966 speech that the United States did not become balkanized because of its mail service, describing it as “a chain of paper that transported the elements of Americanism through thousands of miles, across mountains and desert, from city to frontier, a chain stretching into clearing and valley.” For a moment, I stopped ripping up the mail. That’s a big claim.

“ENTER TO WIN, a Viking Cruise for 2!” I’ve not been on a cruise and don’t plan to, yet near kin feel differently and may yet prevail upon me.

There are more than one “opportunities” to obtain new credit cards, all screaming low promotional rates, bonus points, and various wards. Rip.

I rip them all in half, gather them up, and throw them in the green recycling bin. What I waste, I think.

Except one. It’s an envelope that contained only a form that my daughter sent to me from the Lone Star State, that had no note but had my name and hers in her own distinctive pen with a stamp she licked. It traveled a long way to be here with me. I don’t tear. For a few days at least I’l let that one smile fetchingly across my desk, calling out my name.


Plotting the Resurrection

FOdyOSpvQ3yRVet%bWi2FQ“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.”

(1 Cor. 15: 42-44, ESV)

A friend recently told me that his house of many years had to be “jacked up.” It had begun to settle and sag with time, and cracks had begun to form in the walls at places. I didn’t see them, but he said it was so.

At the age of 34, our house is also showing signs of age. My wife, who is more observant than me, recently noticed the ragged edges of the siding on our third story dormers, evidence of water damage. I called a roofer, and in the matter of a day, it was stripped and replaced. Naked boards are thrust against the sky, as they still need the modesty of paint. But the house must be power washed first, because we also want to have the trim painted while we’re at it, and that can’t be scheduled for another month. Then we (I mean she, of course) saw that water had also rotted the base of the frames around two outside doors. The roofer was more than happy to replace those, for a price.

A week later, while we were out of town, our neighbor texted us to say that water had been streaming down our driveway for a day or more, that our sprinklers in the back yard had been running nonstop. We thanked her. Our lawn service person, Robby, put a stop to that. But the problem remains undiagnosed and the prognosis unclear. Until today, that is, when John, from a company called Under Pressure, came by to tweak and twaddle the various sprinkler heads. And speaking of a lawn service, without the weekly efforts of a crew of landscapers, or failing their help or more concerted effort by me, or if the neighbors didn’t care or the city was dysfunctional in enforcing public nuisance laws, the grass would be waist high in weeks. I knew a house like that, once; it was going back to nature, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

There are other signs of . . . let’s not mince words . . . decay, aging, entropy: cracks in the patio need filling before grass pushes through, rooms need paint, well-tread carpet needs replacement, windows stick and won’t open despite near hernia-producing efforts, and for some reason despite my very limited plumbing skill the toilet gurgles randomly. I took the lid off the tank and stared at it for a while, but it would not perform, and when I put it back and turned to leave, it gurgled. Houses and their accoutrements toy with us, you know. Oh yes: the refrigerator’s fan motor complains (until my wife fixed the seal on the door), the floors creak (meaning there’s no stealthy entry of the refrigerator), the air conditioner fails at an inopportune time, the fireplace needs cleaning by a chimney sweep, bats roost in our attic after the squirrels were enticed to leave, a pipe bursts under our front lawn, listing pines must be removed as they threaten the neighbor’s home, the mailbox badly needs replacing (that was a major project for us), and cracks have appeared in the driveway. That’s for starters. If you are a homeowner, all of this will sound familiar. Mind you, this stuff happens over years, and keeps happening.

Confronted by such entropy, some people just move to a new (or newer) home. But I don’t think I want a new home, at least not now, because it won’t be this one. Some with the money remodel every four years to “freshen up.” I don’t mind a facelift but I still want it to be the same place when the lift is over. Others spend their Saturdays maintaining and fixing every sag and seepage, every crack and crumble. I see them. They make me tired. Still others put their finger in the dike and pray a lot because the swell of the left undone is rising; barbarian elemental forces of nature are at the door.

But me, I’m plotting the resurrection. I don’t want to spend my days keeping up but would rather be with my wife, visit my children, lay in the hammock or sit under this blue umbrella and think and listen to the trees sway and the squirrels chatter and watch the robins and wine and cardinals that visit. We take a few precautions, of course. We did have the siding repaired. We’re cleaning the attic, slowly, in a multi-stage project. Next, perhaps by Fall, we’ll move to cleaning the garage. Some fresh paint may be warranted. The bats took up with the neighbors, and then another. There’s time. It’s unlikely the house will fall down around us. We’ll just kick at the creeping to-do list until it bleeds daylight-which there’s plenty of, of course, because it’s not just house but home.

For now, I want this house and none other, but I want it redeemed and made right and imperishable. I want it to be one in which the paint never fades, the walls never crack, where the memories of life herein are muraled all over its rooms, and where it glows in a golden light of a late afternoon sun that never ends. The house beyond the house. The home it was meant to be, all the good in it perfected. I’m waiting for the day when all things are made new. Even this house, the kernel of what will be.

*I’m indebted to E.B. White for the phrase “plotting the resurrection,” one he coined in an essay on his wife, Katherine. It’s clever.