BY DIANE MEDVED
My husband and I raised our family in a Seattle suburb, and throughout those years a beloved fixture in our lives was our postman, Scott. Scott knew everyone, and would ask about their latest accomplishments. He’d walk packages with the rest of the mail to the door, and always say some friendly words while sparing me a jog to the mailbox on the street.
I also recall the postman who delivered mail to my Southern California home when I was a child. He’d engage the children on his route, urging them to eat their vegetables and listen to their parents. Such civil servants are both civil and servants, and their dedication not only means efficient mail delivery, but an example to their customers of community involvement.
Does this sound like the institution that recently became controversial in relation to its role in the presidential election? Most Americans appreciate the job their mail carriers do, covering their routes despite coronavirus restrictions, increasingly tricky mailboxes, and bureaucratic requirements. I’d like to suggest that delivering correspondence to our individual addresses is more than just furthering advertising circulars toward recycle bins. Our ability to mail cards, documents, letters and yes, even advertising offers Americans options.
We have a choice to communicate through the ether, or invest effort in enclosing, addressing and stamping something more permanent. We can select and wrap a birthday gift and drop it in the postbox envisioning the anticipation with which a wide-eyed grandchild will open it. We can handle slick brochures that make vacation destinations appealing. The magazines to which we subscribe offer satisfying rustles, ease in clipping recipes, and the pop of optical color that pixels on-screen can only simulate. A remembrance sealed with a few words and a signature is a gift that can be saved. And the letters stowed in attic trunks sent decades ago from soldiers, college students and pen pals now-gone become increasingly precious even as their pages yellow and fade.
It may be smart “going paperless” to pay our bills, saving the trees that would become landfill, a noble move when electronic transmissions arrive quicker and require less precious time to send. But need we remove the choice to write out a check and slip it into a return envelope? Should we discourage engraved wedding invitations that bring beauty and gravitas to a once-in-a-lifetime occasion in favor of a “Paperless Post” click?
To the contrary, it seems that over these socially distanced months Americans have more eagerly put pen to paper. Town and Country Magazine ran a June 27 story, “A Side Effect of the Pandemic? Stationery Sales are Booming Right Now,” noting that shortly after the papergoods chain Papyrus declared bankruptcy in January, most Americans became forced by circumstance into a largely digital world. A few months of zooming brought fatigue with the virtual—and a craving for the tangible. Journaling in a notebook through the pandemic became a popular therapeutic tool, as people documented their unexpected exiles from normality. In the height of the pandemic, New York experienced the sad predicament of a shortage of sympathy cards. Around the country, sales of “thinking of you” notes exploded, and Bloomberg reported a 1,200% increase in card purchases through Paper Source.
With the November election upon us, we in Washington State have confidence in the mail-in voting first allowed in 1983, that became default statewide in 2010. Mail-in ballots originally required the voter’s postage stamp, but as of two years ago, returning marked ballots are pre-paid.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman described the coordinated effort that guarantees an honest mail-in election process: “My office and I are working very hard with our Washington counties to make sure we have strong security measures in place for our ballots,” she explained. “We require every voter registration application to have a Washington State DL, ID, or last four of the applicant’s Social Security number, and verify them against the Department of Licensing and Social Security databases. We also compare the voter registration database to the Department of Corrections for those under supervision, and the Social Security death index for deceased voters to remove their names from the rolls.
“We are doing these same security checks for same day voter registration. The new statewide VoteWA database checks every new voter registration against these databases before we make the applicant an active voter.” She continued to say that received envelopes are checked for signature matching, and if there’s doubt, the voter is notified and can either confirm the signature or be alerted for possible fraud investigation.
All this simply reinforces the gratitude postal workers deserve, as their efforts remove any difficulty or danger that in-person voting might bring in this unusual election year.
On a lighter note, perhaps you think you know the motto of the US Postal Service, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
But no; there’s no official motto for this venerable institution. That slogan, modified a bit from The Persian Wars by Herodotus, is indeed carved in stone, in the post office on 8th Avenue in New York City. It’s one of two postal service-related quotations chiseled in granite, the second a version of “The Letter” by Charles W. Eliot (former president of Harvard University) tweaked by President Woodrow Wilson, found in the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. This summarizes the lofty mission to which the postal employees I’ve encountered typically aspire:
Messenger of Sympathy and Love
Servant of Parted Friends
Consoler of the Lonely
Bond of the Scattered Family
Enlarger of the Common Life
Carrier of News and Knowledge
Instrument of Trade and Industry
Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance
Of Peace and of Goodwill Among Men and Nations.
As we use the services of the US Postal Service to carry our ballots and bills, condolences and correspondences, let’s offer a bit of thanks and cherish our many choices in this greatest nation on God’s green earth.
Diane Medved, Ph.D. is a psychologist, speaker and author of seven books, most recently Don’t Divorce: Powerful Arguments for Saving and Revitalizing Your Marriage. She and her husband, radio talk show host (770 AM, noon to 3 pm daily) and author Michael Medved have lived in the same house for 24 years and are delighted to live near their three grandchildren, including the newest, baby Micah, born June 11. Reach Diane at DianeMedved.com.