Standing next to me, at a self-serve kiosk in a post-office lobby, is a man holding a manila envelope bound for a consulate office in Chicago. I am busy working at the adjacent table, affixing newly purchased stamps to my own prepared mailing, when I notice this man confusedly clicking through the kiosk’s various self-serve screens. Finally, turning toward me, he gingerly asks for assistance with the self-serve process.
Stopping to turn my attention to his concern, I pull back my head scarf. My scarf was marking the boundary between the wind-chapped portions of my face and those pieces of me that gratefully received protection from the fierce wind of the outside weather. With my ears unwrapped, I am better able to hear what he might have to say.
Politely taking the manila envelope from him, I set the mailer on the scale, enter the appropriate zip code and otherwise walk him through the self-serve process, showing him how to utilize the kiosk. As we interact, I notice that his English is stilted and his accent pronounced. When we finally arrive at the payment screen, it turns out that the kiosk will not accept card transactions under a few dollars. Thus, we learn, he will be a dollar short on postage.
Having accompanied my new friend this far on his postal journey, I offer him two of my own newly purchased stamps, so that he may mail his package. He is clearly embarrassed by this offer of “charity.” Then, quickly taking out and opening his wallet, he shows me several large bills. I, in turn, explain that I do not carry cash of any kind on my person and explain further that he may simply have two stamps without owing me anything.
I watch his demeanor shift as he overcomes a few more internal, cultural hurdles about receiving such a gift. Finally, he graciously accepts my offer, bowing deeply and respectfully before he affixes the stamps. Then, I watch as he walks briskly out of the post office.
Stopping to bundle myself up for my walk home, I contemplate the commonality of weather conditions here and in the Windy City, where my new friend’s mail is bound. I recall something that Emerson once wrote about the Ocean being the Ocean no matter where it is or how we choose to name it. Connections. Commonality. The way I see things, we share so much—earth, air, water—why not share a couple of stamps with a stranger?
As I walk out of the last set of lobby doors, I stop momentarily amid the gusting and howling wind to breathe in the fresh air which greets me. Setting a brisk pace to match the wind’s own furious rate of movement, I tuck my chin toward my chest. Then, about half-way across the parking lot, a vehicle pulls up beside me. It is the man whom I just assisted. He makes a polite and sincere inquiry as to whether or not I need a ride somewhere.
“No…but, thank you for the offer,” I reply, thinking to myself that the unexpected present of our brief post-office tango was gift enough.