Three weeks from now I’ll be on a plane to South Africa. Barring unforeseen circumstances, of course.
I’ve reached that point in the departure countdown when I obsess about all the bad things that could prevent me from leaving. Possibilities include: terrorist attack; death in the family; severe weather or other act of god (e.g., ash cloud); lost passport.
One of these nightmares nearly became reality this week.
On Tuesday morning I went to the post office to check my P.O. box. In the box was a small slip of paper saying I had received a package that needed to be picked up from behind the counter.
My first thought was, “Belated birthday present!” I went to the counter and presented my slip. The postal worker looked at it and disappeared into the back room for a couple of minutes. He came back out, puzzled over my slip, mumbled to himself, and went to the back again.
He returned empty-handed, asked for my phone number, and said he would call when he found the package.
I left, feeling irritated by this stereotypical postal worker incompetence. I didn’t think much more about what the package might be. As the workday progressed I forgot about it.
At about 9:30 that night, it hit me. The missing package contained my passport.
As you may remember, three weeks ago I sent away my passport to have visa pages added. I still had a couple of pages left but figured I should add more, just to be safe. I paid for expedited service, which guaranteed my passport’s safe return in two-and-a-half weeks.
The passport service came through and returned my passport in two weeks and one day. The postal service, on the other hand, had lost it somewhere between my P.O. box and the service counter 10 feet away.
A night of tossing and turning ensued, followed by a long morning waiting for the post office to open at 9. People lose their passports all the time, I thought. Three weeks is plenty of time to get a new one. Right? Maybe. But I really did not want to add “emergency passport” to my pre-move to-do list.
As I walked to the post office, I mentally composed the Facebook status update I would post when I got to my office. “Big DISLIKE to the U.S. Postal Service, who lost my passport three weeks before my move to South Africa. You suck, Postal Service! May you die a slow, painful death at the hands of UPS.”
I arrived at the post office at 8:58. Waited. The same guy from the day before came to unlock the door. I followed him to the counter, trembling with panic and suppressed rage. My passport was lost, I was sure of it.
He walked behind the counter and looked at me expectantly. “I was here yesterday,” I half-whispered. “I received a package and you couldn’t find it. You said you would keep looking and call…”
Pause, as recognition registered.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I called you but didn’t get through.” (Side note: No he did not.) “Be right back.” Off to the mysterious back room.
Thirty seconds later he returned holding the most beautiful Priority Mail envelope I had ever seen. I sputtered thanks.
“I found it right after you left yesterday,” he said. “Thanks for coming back to get it.”
I tore open the envelope and clutched the blue booklet to my chest. Dear, sweet passport. May we never part again.
Sometimes you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone. Fortunately, I got to experience the feeling that my passport was gone, but it never really was. I will never take it for granted again.