Open Letter

To: The Montreal Mail Hoarder

From: A Sympathizer

Re: Deliverance

01 • 25 • 06

Dear Montreal Mail Hoarder:

I haven't heard much about you in the news since your case was first exposed late last year, but I think you should probably be in court right about now. It must be very hard to start the new year facing jail time; I just wanted you to know you've been in my thoughts.

Listen: I know you did a bad thing. You were supposed to deliver the mail to the good people of Montreal and you didn't. Canadian taxpayers were paying you to do something that you systematically, over a period of years, failed to do. Canadian taxpayers were also supplying you with some pretty snappy walking shorts and one of those double-shoulder double-hip mail holsters that would be way better for most Canadian taxpayers' posture and orthopedic health than the bags those of us who are not postal workers use. But alas--even these stylish and ergonomic accoutrements were not sufficient to induce you to deliver all that mail.

Instead of delivering the mail, you appear to have hoarded it in your home. For five years: well over a thousand days of post. When you were finally discovered, Montreal police found you had stashed as many as 75,000 letters and parcels addressed to residents of the city's north end. Naturally, the exposure of your "system" resulted in the loss of your job. It may yet result in a prison sentence. (The mail is serious business.) How did it all come to this, Mail Hoarder?

Let us assume the worst of you. Let us assume that you did not hoard those 75,000 letters because of some clinical compulsion beyond your control. Let us assume, rather, that you were just being lazy. That a day simply came when you could not--would not--climb to the mail slot of one more walk-up; when you could not face one more day of Montreal wind chill; when you could not look down the length of your own body to behold black sneakers poking out from under navy slacks; when the relentless flow of mail suddenly seemed too futile to warrant all the effort, yet too banal to warrant a shooting spree. And let us assume that on that day, and on many, many days thereafter, you simply went home. No grand scheme; no special affliction; just a quiet, undignified surrender.

Mail Hoarder, even when your sins are cast in this, the worst possible light, I cannot help but sympathize. For one thing, I have known your softnesses: laziness, defeatism, an aversion to cold. I know that on certain dark winter days these three can form a powerful confederacy capable of bringing low even a noble heart. But while I understand how this mess might have been born, it is when I imagine its later life that my grief is strongest.

Mail Hoarder, I wonder whether those agents of our justice system who now seek to see you punished have reflected--really reflected, alone, in a quiet room--on what it must have been like to live for five years in the middle of a growing pile of other people's mail. When I think of you, sitting in your cozy living room of a blustery afternoon, having ostensibly cheated the system for another day, I am filled almost with a kind of awe. It stretches the limits of my endurance to leave an unwashed dish in the sink for 36 hours. Unreturned phone calls cling to my stomach walls. The banishment of my to-do list from my mind for even three-quarters of an hour is a fantasy beyond my most swaggering hopes. But you, Mail Hoarder! What torment you must have known!

What greater misery could there be than living in a house where your failures and lies physically pile up around you? Broken promises creeping out from under the bed. Shirked responsibilities squeezing out of cupboards. Wrongs done to innocent strangers toppling off of bookshelves. With every passing week the pounds and pounds of deceit accumulating around you in layers of sedimentary accusation. How much worse than a single telltale heart all those whispering envelopes must have been. And more coming all the time! Each day a wave washing a little more guilt into your home as it advances, and drawing away a little more space and peace as it recedes!

Mail Hoarder, you have lived for five years in some excised canto of Dante's Inferno. Your contrapasso has been to live in a sea of your own tangible wrongdoing. Unlike an ordinary thief, you could never convert what you stole into money, never make good (pleasure and freedom) from bad (transgression and guilt). By the time you got that damn mail home, you had already consumed its reward. By the time you added it to the pile, the pleasure was used up; only payment was left--and that at a usurious rate, extracted over long years.

You, in that living room, experienced a horribly distilled version of the knowledge that our days are mainly, non-negotiably, a matter of accumulation. Things will accumulate one way or another; either we accumulate days on which the mail is delivered, or we accumulate days on which the mail is not delivered. The mail doesn't stop. If we don't accumulate friends, we accumulate loneliness. If we don't accumulate days on which we have successfully done the dishes, we accumulate roaches. Everywhere you turn things are gathering: bathtub scum; yard waste; abstinence; lettuce in ziploc bags. The mail just doesn't fucking stop.

This overwhelming cumulativeness is something most of us only confront occasionally, as when we start a new address book and drop a few names, realizing that on some relationships the film of neglect has become too thick to wash away. You, Mail Hoarder, stared into this terrible knowledge--lived at its musty centre--every day for five years. I for one think you have suffered quite enough. You may not have paid a debt to Canadian society, but as far as I'm concerned you have more than made good with some higher piper.

Alas--I have very little sway with the law. The best I can recommend is slipping your judge a copy of The Georgics. But if that doesn't work and prison is indeed where you are bound, take comfort: it might not be as bad as you think. I don't mean to diminish the difficulty that lies before you, but let us not forget the difficulty that is past! You have lived in a prison of mail--mail!--for half a decade!

Mail Hoarder, let's try something. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Imagine yourself walking down a long, bare, echoing corridor. Keep your eyes closed. Now imagine yourself nearing the end of the corridor and turning to walk through an open door. Beyond the door is a bare cell: a bed; a barred window; clean cinderblock walls. Look around, Mail Hoarder, and note that there is no trace of you here--no evidence of what you have done or not done, been or not been. Now imagine the sound of the door closing behind you. There. Please believe that I ask this in earnest and with genuine sympathy: don't you feel free?

Hang in there,

A Sympathizer