Where are the letters? I’ll get to that thought in a moment. But foremost in many people’s minds now is — can the U.S. Post Office handle the flood of mail-in ballots during the upcoming election? Related to that question is whether the postmaster general has deliberately dismantled sorting machines and drop boxes to slow down balloting during the pandemic at the behest of the White House. I’m really not qualified to answer either of those questions although I’m sure they’ll get resolved before the election.
As the leading democracy in the world we want people to vote, and we want to make it easy for people to vote. Voting is a gift, and like giving a gift, when you do it, it just feels good. So, in the midst of all the controversy surrounding the logistics of voting in the upcoming election, during this unprecedented viral epidemic, I have a modest proposal. It is not unique. It’s been promulgated before, but never seems to get much traction.
Maybe it’s time to revisit the idea of making Election Day a national holiday. You’d have all day to think about when you wanted to vote. No worries about whether to try to stand in line before work in the morning, or if you can get your vote in during your lunch break, or whether to have dinner with the family or stand in line after work. It would be a statement by the federal government (that would be us) of how sacred the act of voting is to a democracy.
To put this into perspective, we as a nation have elected to choose Columbus Day, New Year’s Day and Presidents’ Day as a national holidays, but we have not chosen as a national holiday the day we elect the leaders of our nation. Theodore Hesburgh, the legendary past president of Notre Dame University, once said that “Voting is a civic sacrament.” Amen to that.
Call me old-fashioned, but to me the post office is a sacred institution, one of the pillars of our democracy. Not only is it the conveyor belt for an increasing number of the nation’s election ballots, but it is an essential component of our market economy. Sure, it may need to make some modifications to stay with it in the era of e-commerce and emails, but it remains one of our essential institutions. Its emphasis may shift from letters to packages, but we’ll still want to get our valentines, Christmas cards, and medicines delivered, rain or shine, to our mailboxes or front door drops.
Which brings me to my opening question: “Where are the letters?” Apparently there are fewer letters flowing through the post office nowadays, and on that we probably have to thank short-shrift communication aps like email, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In fact, my stepdaughter called the other day because she needed to send an application somewhere and asked, “Where do I buy a stamp?”
The answer was, “At the post office.”
The dialogue continued. “Where is the post office?”
“Oh my… I don’t know honey, you live in Cleveland. There’s one somewhere in your neighborhood.”
The letters between my wife’s parents and my parents are a treasure trove of insight into their lives and into the history that surrounded them. Emails and messaging have a way of vanishing into the ether. Facebook and Twitter will eventually vanish as well, like 8-track tape players and floppy discs as technology overruns itself.
I can’t say how many times we’ve asked the kids to write their 94-year-old grandfather letters as he eagerly waits for something to appear in the mailbox. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not that they don’t care to write, but that they don’t know how or where to buy a postage stamp or where the post office is. It’s sad. It’s not just about missing the yellowed letters that reveal secrets from a family’s past, but about the letters that President Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, or to his Vice President Thomas Jefferson, or that Albert Einstein wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When one of my kids says to me, “You’re such a baby boomer,” I plead guilty, and am reminded of how important it is to write letters to my grandchildren, and to vote!
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.