Earl’s Postmaster Problem

(Originally posted on January 22, 2015)

car1930My friend, Earl, stops by my office every now and then and I’m always so glad to see him. He’s 95 years young and still manages to get around town to see his “people” all on his own. Earl is packed full of stories from his younger days and genuinely misses the slower paced life and compassion that most people had for one another back then. Though he can be a touch grumpy at times, he always has a smile and a kind word for everyone he meets.

Anytime Earl has a computer question, he rolls in my office armed with error message printouts and everything stacked in perfect sequence with time stamps in place. Today he came to see me about an email he’d received from “the postmaster.” It seems a daily devotion that he regularly forwards to another friend had been returned undelivered. This postmaster person had intercepted the message without even allowing Earl’s friend the choice of receiving it.

Earl had prepared a blazing reply addressed to the postmaster demanding that his email be delivered to his friend who had received hundreds before and cherished them all. He became even angrier when his reply was returned stating that there was no such mailbox. What? How could this be? The postmaster sent Earl a message from that very box and now it’s just gone?

I explained the bare basics of automated email systems and how the “postmaster” wasn’t really a person and the imaginary postmaster has no inbox. There is only an outbox. He took it very well and seemed to let out a sigh of relief. Then he suggested that maybe he got a little overly defensive because it just seems that someone is always out to attack everything that is good in the world anymore. He told me that things weren’t always that way and then he told me about his neighbor when he was a child.

Earl’s neighbor was the only person on the block that owned a car. It was the 1930’s and there just weren’t many cars around. His neighbor only drove the car once each week and Earl knew the routine well. He was always so excited to get outside to the front steps of his house on Sunday mornings to watch the man next door take the car from the garage, push back the shades that protected the paint from the sun and use a feather duster to brush away any accumulated dust. Soon the man’s wife would emerge from the house in her Sunday best. He would help her into the car and they would drive away for church.

Earl said it was such an awesome spectacle that he made sure to be there when the car brought them back home. He wanted to see the neighbor use the feather duster once again, pull the shades back out and put that beautiful car back into the garage for another week.

HinkelEarl explained to me that everyone in the neighborhood was happy for the couple. Everyone wanted a car of their own but they were proud to see that this man had already accomplished that for himself and his wife. No one tried to steal the car or scratch the paint out of spite. Everyone just wanted to see it drive down the street.

Earl lived in a different world than we do today. He knows the difference. He knows how good it was and how bad it is. I can’t imagine what that must be like. If you ask him, he’ll still tell you that he is “blessed to be on this side of the dirt.” I am too, Earl. I am too.

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