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A Little Mail



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Thanks to all who have written in about today’s Impromptus. I thought I would offer a sampling of mail. One reader says that she believes that Jaime Herrera, just elected to Congress from Washington State, is the first member of Congress to have been homeschooled “since the olden days, when homeschooling was common.” Interesting.

By the way, Jaime Herrera is a woman. Has there ever been another female “Jaime”? Maybe she pronounces it “Jamie.”

I will just continue giving the mail, without saying what the mail responds to. (Column-readers know, or can guess.) A reader writes, “My wife’s family on her mother’s side were among those people who fled Sweden in the 1800s, owing to famine. When we visited Sweden, we heard countless tales about the famine, and about how nearly every male child had to leave the country or starve.”

A reader says — has occasion to remember — “I lived in Israel for a couple of years just after the Yom Kippur War and one day was in a bookstore in Haifa with a friend, a woman who had been kicked out of Poland in 1968 when they had an anti-Semitic purge. She looked at one book titled ‘The American Police State’ and said, ‘This is a joke, yes?’ I assured her it was not, that the author advanced the notion that the U.S. was a police state. My friend snorted, ‘I’d like to see him spend one day in real police state, then.’”

Oh, yes. I have had thoughts like that many, many times.

In my column, I have a little item on grammar, and a reader writes, “‘Parallelism,’ my high-school English teacher constantly admonished, so frequently that we made fun of him. But the lesson stuck.”

Finally, there is a long letter that I wish to share with you. I’ll do a little “Keep reading” thing, because, as I said, the letter is long — but well worth the time, I think. In Impromptus, I tell a story about a man who bent down to pick up a penny. This item has occasioned a lot of mail, actually. And here is the letter I wish to share:

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Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

I had a father who almost always picked up trash on the street when he came across it. During all the moments I witnessed these acts, it never occurred to me to ask him why he did it (when virtually everyone else ignored the stuff).

Thirty years later, out on a run in my neighborhood, I saw some trash and was moved to pick it up. It happened that I had recently been fired from a position despite the fact that I had performed extremely productively. I was in a state of mind that had me wondering about my worth. It occurred to me that, despite being unemployed, I could still be a good father, husband, friend, and citizen. Before, I might have done what my father did, with regard to trash, unthinkingly. Now I was doing it to soothe my soul, so to speak. If all I did was improve my neighborhood an iota, I figured I was still “productive” and “worthy.”

A silly little mind game, sure. However, that perspective helped me manage my period of unemployment and, I believe, helped me in the interviews that finally secured a much more lucrative new position.

But that’s not the end of the story. I continue to pick up trash, which means I keep an eye on the ground. As you can imagine, I’ve come across a fair amount of coinage and also bills, which I’ve always considered God’s little way of “repaying” me (not that I ever needed such “encouragement”). Recently, I found a diamond earring. Unable to determine its owner, I gave it to my wife, who was happy to receive it, and wears it happily around her neck. Value? I have no idea, but what it represents to me is incalculable.

So I guess you could say my father’s humble civic actions turned out to be an immensely important gift to his son. It helped me get through my biggest professional challenge and led to a change in perspective which has fortified me for the last 20 years.

How do you like that? Not so much a letter as a testimony.



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