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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
An odd thing happened the other day.
I went to the mailbox and found that I had once again been gifted with an armful of glossy advertisements for things that I don’t want, like vinyl flooring, hearing aids and enormous sandwiches, and that the wad of envelopes below the slippery stack of flyers included some mail for my elder son.
I opened it.
Of course, I don’t make a habit of opening other people’s mail, largely because it’s just wrong, but also because I’m not in the slightest bit interested in whatever it is that someone’s sent them. Really, I just don’t care. I can just sit here and eat my enormous half-price sandwich while other people read their own mail.
The reason I opened it is that I am confident my son won’t.
He died more than seven years ago.
I could have tossed the mail in the rubbish, of course. Of all the things that one hangs on to after a family member has passed, random bits of mail do not rank high on the list. They’re on a par with those black socks from high school marching band, a library card, a keychain shaped like a troll, ketchup packets from the cup holder in a pickup truck, and a stack of paint swatches that the boy had hoped I’d use one day in choosing a color for his room (almost all of them Dallas Cowboys blue).
The mail in question, fresh and crisp and glossy, included coupons for generous discounts on nicotine vaping devices and refills.
Well, isn’t that just delightful.
Given that my son would now be 28 if he had lived, I suppose he’d be old enough to buy a vape device if he so chose today.
At first, I thought I should be upset. I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel. I think that means I was nonplussed. I wasn’t exactly numb, but I didn’t really feel any outrage or distress at my son receiving nicotine delivery coupons seven years after his ashes had gone into a copper urn.
After dealing with the puzzlement of finding mail in his name for the first time in many years, then wondering why I wasn’t really all that offended, it struck me that clearly there is a computer somewhere that just pumps out names and addresses of people all over the United States, continually, for junk mail regardless of whether these people still live at those places or at all.
There isn’t anyone going down the list crossing out names of those who won’t be wanting junk mail where they’ve gone.
Eventually, the computer file will burst, of course, everything will malfunction, and nobody will save any money on Thursday’s tuna bacon club, or whatever. I’m sure the day will come when the entire creaking behemoth of a system will completely malfunction or fall into the sea. Someone will have to start from scratch then, beginning with Aaron Appleby in Akron. It could be years before anyone makes it as far as Robertson, and by that time there could be more of us not appreciating any vape coupons.
I sat outside that evening under the moon and stars, thinking quietly about stuff in general, and the recurring thought was not one of anger at being reminded so rudely of our loss but instead of marvel that there are so many things that just don’t work properly. Systems, programs, vital elements of our infrastructure, silly little things like mailing lists, rather more important things like health care and clean water supplies, all seem plagued by ridiculous flaws.
And yet we soldier on, we shrug off the negativity, we laugh at the absurdities of life, and we drive around looking for a sandwich shop at three in the morning.