‘Al’ Lang Syne

by Sherrill A Dunsmuir

Ten years ago, I worked part time for a store that packed and shipped items to be sent by UPS and FedEx. For obvious reasons, Christmastime made it a very busy place, and you can imagine that from time to time we encountered some rather unusual items. I had long considered the surfboard to top that list, until several days before Christmas of 1999.

A couple came into the store with a small box. They wanted it sent to Pasadena, California. When asked what was in the box, (UPS requires a list of contents), they said it was simply a decorative marble box . . . a piece of art. I told them that it would take a little over a week to reach Pasadena, (not in time for Christmas), unless they wanted to ship it by air. They said no, there was no rush. Whatever was the least expensive way. They paid and left.

I took the marble box into the back of the store to bubble wrap it, which was when I discovered the cremation certificate. This wasn’t art . . . this was Al. In the flurry of activity caused by the other busy employees, my sudden lack of movement gained attention. My boss asked, “What is it?” I replied, “Al”.

UPS frowns on shipping remains . . . but the thought of calling these folks and telling them to come back and get the box didn’t seem right. It was Christmas. We decided to forget we had seen the certificate, and packed it anyway.

It made for an interesting day, knowing that in the stack of Christmas gifts awaiting pickup, was Al. Some of the other employees found it disturbing, but I really didn’t. I found myself wondering what had brought Al to this end, being shipped UPS Ground all the way across the country. Had he always wanted to go to Pasadena? I wondered about the people who had brought him to us. They hadn’t seemed distraught. As a matter of fact, they were the only people in the store who actually seemed calm.

Prior to Al’s arrival at the store, I had, like so many others, been caught up in the hectic holiday rush. The struggle to get everything finished in time . . . the fear that something or someone would be forgotten . . . making constant lists of all the things I still needed to do to be ready for Christmas. Panic had begun to set in. With Al, came a change. Perspective. I had been waiting all day on frantic people trying to get their Christmas packages to their destinations, whatever the cost. And then there was Al, in no particular hurry to get to Pasadena. My attitude changed, and I felt more relaxed.

I believe that things happen for a reason, and my encounter with Al was no exception. It reminded me that the stress of the holidays is really self inflicted. Christmas is, after all, not about getting gifts and cards out on time. We all know its more than that. Yet, no matter how much we think we’re focused on the true meaning of Christmas, we all stray and get caught up in the frenzy. That year, thanks to Al, I was able to get back on track.

May Christmas of 2009, and the new year ahead bring us all peace . . . and inspiration in unexpected places.

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