The other day I was performing the adultiest of adult tasks—paying the bills. Does anyone actually enjoy doing this? Probably not. If anything, I enjoy the satisfaction of having paid my bills, of being a responsible human being, and knowing that, for at least the next month, nobody is going to come knocking on my door to bust my kneecaps.
So there I was, having just filled out a check to the gas company. I stuffed it neatly into the provided envelope and sealed and addressed it. My wife keeps the postage stamps in her desk drawer, so I opened it to find that we had two sets. One was a collection of regular old American flag stamps, the kind you can get year round. The other was a set of Charlie Brown themed stamps, depicting nostalgic scenes from that classic holiday film, A Charlie Brown Christmas. My wife had purchased them back in December to put on Christmas card envelopes, but hadn’t used them all. I instinctively reached for these and prepared to put one on the envelope, looking for a scene that was still wintery but not too Christmasy. It was then I felt a check—why was I wasting this beautiful little stamp on a gas bill? It’s not like I was sending a special note, in a fancy envelope, to a friend or loved one as a demonstration of thoughtfulness. This plain, white square pocket was a mere delivery mechanism for my cold, financial transaction with the cogs and gears of the gas company.
But then I checked myself again—why shouldn’t I add a little beauty to this bare square of paper? After all, the gas company isn’t some mindless, impersonal bureaucracy. At the other end of its postal service adventure, my envelope would no doubt find its way into the hands of another person, perhaps stuck in a dreary cubicle, sifting through check after check, day after day. Perhaps my little Charlie Brown stamp would add a bit of color or memory into a long work day.
And after all, hasn’t the gas company provided me with beauty in their own way? They, without fail, send along the fuel that keeps my heater burning, warming our home on cold winter nights when the wind shrieks and moans outside our third story apartment. I’ve never had to worry about freezing to death, and that’s something to be thankful for. When I think about it that way, a pretty postage stamp (and my money) is small thanks for such provision.
So yes, I picked out a Charlie Brown postage stamp, fixed it to the upper right corner of that plain white envelope, and sent it on its merry way. Maybe such a gesture doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things. Or maybe it’s one of many small, daily, but important acts of adding beauty to the world.
[Editor’s note: Three days later, the envelope was delivered to the gas company where its check was extracted by the cold, lifeless mandibles of a money-eating robot and Charlie Brown was dispassionately flushed through the robot’s refuse chute without comment—probably.]
Chris is an Associate Professor of English at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts, and is also the author of several books of poetry. In 2018 he helped co-found The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, visiting coffee shops, and poking through used bookstores with his wife Jen.