Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Precious Moments

E. B. White once told of a letter he received. The writer of this letter
'went, during his lunch hour, to buy stamps at the small post office in Bloomingdale's basement. Ahead of him in line was a lady who bought things to a standstill by changing her mind about what kind of stamps and envelopes she wanted, by running up a bill of more than thirty dollars, and by discovering that she didn't have thirty dollars and could she pay the balance by check?
The line grew and grew. After a while, someone ventured to hope, out loud, that she wouldn't change her mind again, because he was on his lunch hour. At this the woman turned on him and said, "you aren't even an American, are you?" The man was quite shaken by this, but the others in the line weren't, and they came to his aid instantly.
"We're all Americans," shouted one of them, "and we are all on the lunch hour!" '

In late 2002 my Spouse and I drove to San Francisco with a friend. We had a superb day out, at the end of which we had to take the ferry back to the harbour where our car was parked.
We arrived at the ferry port quite early in the evening but rather too late to avoid a large crowd. We all knew that places on the ferry would be limited; we also all were aware that it was the very last boat going to the harbour that evening.
When we approached the crowd the three of us noticed the line had formed in a peculiar way. There were a few at the very start of the line and on the better side of the gate: those were certainly getting on the boat first. However, after the gate the line had branched ominously into a 'Y' shape. Each branch of the 'Y' thought theirs was the proper line and that the other would not have a place on the boat. We joined the smaller of the branches, hoping that ours was the right choice and that any moment, somebody would come along to tell the other line they needed to join ours and their line was invalid.
Each branch began to make snide and highly-strung comments to the other about how they were right and it was ridiculous, nobody would let them all on. Vicious glares were dispensed left and right. At times I actually felt we were under threat from some of the people. We could all clearly see that there were too many people for the ferry.
When a ferry official wandered by, we had hopes he would attempt to diffuse the situation. Instead he muttered something to the effect of "sort it out yourselves" and continued on his way. Perhaps he was scared too.
One could have cut the air with a knife, such was the tension. The moment they started to let us progress forward, there was a surge and people began to push, using elbows and anything that might serve as a means to get ahead.
It was the most tense three hours of my life waiting for that ferry, and that of my Spouse and friend. We too were trying to get to that ferry. Our goal was to get home, of course. We were not rude to anybody, nor did we do anything to instigate the bad feeling that flung the blanket of malevolence over the waiting people.
So much agitation and frustration: for what? Such a waste of time. We had had such a lovely day in San Francisco, on Fisherman's Wharf and in the city: how sad that the finale had to be tainted in that way by intimidation.
It is imperative to learn to let things go; not only material possessions but traits like impatience, and egocentric ways. Just like in E.B. White's little story, we were all trying to get home, and nobody was more important than another.

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