It was Christmas Eve and we had just returned from a candlelight service. My family was enjoying some hot chocolate and unwrapping a couple of presents with my mother-in-law. Bing Crosby's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' was playing in the background when our doorbell interrupted the moment. I looked at my watch and noticed it was Quarter till Eleven. I wondered who on earth was coming by the house so late at night. When I opened the door, I looked out into the chilly Chesapeake darkness but I couldn't see anybody there. I looked down and discovered a small box. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man in a USPS jacket jumping back into his delivery truck. I shouted after him, "Thank you, Merry Christmas!"
The mailman half-turned back and without hesitating shouted "Merry Christmas!" in return, jumped in his truck and disappeared into the night. Now, I wish I could tell you more about the man who was delivering presents at that hour on Christmas Eve, but by the time I got to the door, he was far enough away that I couldn't make out his face. There was nothing extraordinary about our interaction, but right there at that moment on my porch, I was overcome with a sense of appreciation and gratitude to all the public servants who seldom get the recognition they deserve.
I immediately thought of all the soldiers, sailors and airmen serving overseas who were spending their Christmas in Afghanistan and other dangerous lands protecting our freedom and way-of-life. I pondered their families, who might be celebrating Christmas with an empty chair this year at the dinner table. We are so thankful and grateful for their service.
I thought of firefighters and police officers responding to emergencies in the middle of the night throughout the year. Their families don't have the luxury to turn their cell phone ringers off late at night. I thought of Virginia shipbuilding welders supporting our national defense manufacturing base and pictured teachers grading students' papers at their kitchen tables as their clocks ticked towards midnight.
My mind turned to a story I heard about a social worker recently. He works as a counselor with troubled, under privileged and inter-city adolescents. He described a typical day counseling session with 15 teenagers, where he was sifting through the physical and emotional scars of gang violence, sexual abuse, parents abandoning them, and countless arrests. His goal in each session was to make a connection -- some kind, any difference with one or two of the children. "Some days I wish I could be a mailman," he had recounted to a friend. "I would sort the mail, load up my delivery truck and go out and distribute the letters. When my truck was empty, I would go home and I would not have any more mail to think about until the next day " His voice trailed off for a second before he continued, "When I go home now, I can't stop thinking about these kids. My truck is full at the end of each day."
Too often in the past year, hard-working Americans that work for local, state or the federal government have been lumped in with tales of fraud, waste or abuse. There were clowns and hot tubs at GSA boondoggles in Las Vegas or Secret Service members misbehaving with prostitutes in Colombia or the city of Chesapeake building three jail buildings for $7 million that are not equipped to house inmates. We have a lot of work to do on cleaning up government and these scandals certainly highlight the need to eliminate wasteful or fraudulent government spending. How unfair for us to lump anyone and everyone into the same category. Many employees enter the public workforce for the express purpose of working on behalf of the best interests our cities, state, and nation rather than on behalf of someone's monetary profit. It is called a sense of public service.
So, for a brief moment on Christmas Eve as that mailman delivered the mail late at night, I thought of the social worker, who wished he could just deliver that package, go home and leave his work at work. I thought of those empty stockings for our soldiers fighting abroad. I thought of our teachers, those in law enforcement, transportation, social services, and so many others. And I wanted to say thank you for your service. I am grateful.