1/1/2016 16:08

No Mail Today

Again today, no mail. This is the third time in the just ten days that I have received no mail. (The day after tomorrow will be the fourth; that's Sunday.)

I grant you that the lack of mail delivery on New Year's Day was entirely predictable. My automated calendar includes notations for all the federal holidays precisely to remind myself not to expect anything from the letter carriers in my mail box.

But consider why I felt the need to include that reminder. The regular arrival of the mail is a drumbeat of regularity in a seething world, a justification for a sense of order in a sea of uncertainty. Order may be ephemeral or illusory, but we humans cling to it where we find it and struggle to create it where no order exists.

This has been a good strategy. It may seem hopeless and pointless when you think about our feeble efforts to invent order in the universe, but the fact is that this effort has led us to create government and art, to discern hidden regularities such as gravity or the refraction of light, and to communicate these discoveries and inventions to each other.

It is a strategy which has made human beings into the dominators of an entire planet (and may even allow us to preserve ourselves and this planetary home).

Yet deep inside us lives a doubt that order is the defining characteristic of our world. Thus we crave daily reassurances. We look to make sure that the sun rises every morning. We wait for letters and advertisements to be delivered to our mailboxes, for stores to open, for colleagues to show up at work, for leaves to bud out in spring. We look for these things to assure us that behind the uncertainty of life there is also an orderliness we can rely on.

And so every federal holiday I remind myself not to look for the mail, but to remember instead the grander orderliness of the turning year and the national laws which together command that the mails will come on other days.