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Opinions - November 19th, 2004
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

Finding things in our everyday lives and humorously commenting upon them as a columnist is usually pretty easy. Unfortunately the world occasionally ignores the special needs of the light-hearted writer and instead lays out major tragedy at every turn.

We’re in one of those periods now. I mean, typhoons, floods, earthquakes, death, destruction, and the U.S. presidential elections. There aren’t many reasons to giggle  about people up in Niigata’s relocation centers (or for Democrats in the States). They are suddenly homeless, they’ve been dumped on the ground, and winter – about the snowiest on earth — is on its way.

Nothing’s funny anywhere, but there are aspects of events in the last few weeks that cry out for special mention, albeit not humorous mention. The heroics of workers who drove rescue vehicles and flew helicopters to reach stranded citizens always seems above and beyond what one would expect of those same people shuffling along on normal day-to-day chores.

Particularly fascinating was the dramatic attempt to rescue a mother and her two children from an automobile crushed in a landslide. Pulling out one of the kids alive was a Super Event that obviously touched many heartstrings. (Many heartstrings? Are you kidding? We’re liable to be watching re-runs of the Super Event until early next year. I’m not certain I can stand having my heartstrings touched that much.)

The point, I guess, is that we humans have the capacity for behaving heroically in the face of disaster, and it is comforting to watch that trait in others from the safety of our living rooms. (“I could do what those guys are doing. It’s just that I’m too far away — and I’m all warm and dry.”)

Something more interesting struck me as I watched (from afar) the TV coverage in Niigata. It was an act of heroism I suppose you could say, but it was far removed from the danger and drama of life and death.

Keep in mind, as background to all this, pressure to privatize the postal system is growing. On one hand, the government appears to be losing money in the mail delivery side of things, but on the other hand is sitting on mountains of untouchable cash in postal savings. Getting the delivery side into the efficiency of a private corporation would also free up all that cash for circulation in the general economy. Oh boy.

Now then, in the midst of all the chaos in the mountainside villages where the quakes did their greatest damage, the township mailman gets up, hitches a ride on the back of a truck, goes to the city post office, picks up the mail for his region, hitches a ride on another truck, and spends the rest of the day making the rounds of all the evacuation centers where his “customers” are located — sitting or sleeping on the floors. It’s his job.

The man knows where every one of the rescued people, hundreds of them if not thousands, is located. He brings news back and forth between friends and neighbors. He is the glue, just like in normal times, that keeps the old neighborhood together.

Will the privatization of the post office allow that…inefficient waste of time? We don’t know, but I doubt it. In the meantime we can rejoice that some time-worn systems still hang on. And that man is a good subject for a column.

By the way, when he finished his rounds, he went back to one of the relocation centers, sat on his blanket and took off his glasses. He then rubbed his eyes and pounded the back of his neck with a stick. Heroes are allowed to do that.