Just a Stamp

By

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 teaches writing and literature to college and high school students. He is the author of several books of poetry, and has released several albums of original music. He is also an amateur photographer, part-time stick-swordfighter, and chai enthusiast. He and his wife Jen enjoy reading, writing, and exploring the cities, coasts, and forests of New England.


12 Comments

  1. Sara Masarik

    Even though Charlie met his end in a robot refuse, you took a stand against the ugliness of the world – and Who knows how many letter carriers enjoyed your postage stamp sized splash of beauty. I applaud you! I have been hoarding my Charlie Brown stamps – saving them for the “best” recipients. No more! 🙂 splashes of beauty everywhere

  2. Laure Hittle

    Chris, thank you for this reminder that we can beautify our world and love the people in it in these tiny, human ways.

    And Pete, thank you for that inspiring footnote. It warmed the cockles of my cold, dead heart, and i bless you for it.

  3. Chris Yokel

    I see that my research for this essay was highly insufficient, and that I should’ve gone deep undercover as a mindless drone in the heart of the corporate beast.

  4. redheadkate

    I used to add stickers to the envelopes when I mailed checks. These days, I don’t pay bills via mail, so that fun, little act has gone away.

  5. Aden S

    As one who works in an insurance company’s mailroom, I handle thousands of envelopes daily. A fellow coworker and myself will eagerly look out for, and show to each other, the stamps that are odd, foreign, or beautiful that come into the office. I know it brightens up our days.

    Please keep stamping, robots haven’t taken over everything… Yet. 😀

  6. MaryR

    Thanks for your inspiration. Sometimes little things can make a big difference, both for us and those around us. Little bits of joy and little ways of acknowledging the personhood of both yourself and others are not wasted effort.

    And as a note to the editor’s note, I live in a small enough town that there is no machine (too expensive) both the water and power company still open their mail by hand. So it does still get to a real person. Big cities maybe not, but out here, definitely.

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