The One With The Postmark

[Shri Hanuman]“Even a plan destined for success will be vanquished if it contradicts with time and place when reaching the hands of a confused messenger, like darkness at sunrise.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 30.37)

bhūtāḥ ca arthā vinaśyanti deśa kāla virodhitāḥ ||
viklavam dūtam āsādya tamaḥ sūrya udaye yathā |

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It was getting late. Things had been hectic at the office that day. It was the end of the week, as well, so all the tasks that were put off earlier in the week now came due. “This is what we get for procrastinating,” said a frustrated John. “It’s like that snowstorm last year,” chimed in his brother James. “We thought we’d let all the snow pile up first before going out and shoveling, but that turned out to be the wrong strategy.”

[Winter]The day was drawing to a close and most of the office tasks had since been completed. John had one personal errand that he missed, however. He needed a letter mailed out. He also needed it postmarked. It was very important. John and James worked together but they lived separately. They were going to meet up that night at the home of their parents. John knew that James lived very close to a post office, so he decided to ask for a favor.

“Hey, on your way home, can you stop by the post office for me?” he asked.

“Sure, what do you need done?” replied James.

“I need this letter mailed out. It doesn’t necessarily matter when it arrives at its destination, but I need it postmarked today. Since you live near the post office, I was hoping you could do that for me before it closes.”

James was a little hesitant, for he had never had anything postmarked before. He wasn’t even sure what to say at the counter, but rather than reveal his ignorance to his brother, he simply agreed.

[Postmarks]At the post office there was a line of people, all rushing to beat the closing time. When he approached the clerk, James asked to have the envelope in his hand postmarked.

“Okay, no problem,” said the clerk. Then, as the clerk went to put the envelope in the back, James stopped him and asked, “You’re going to mail that out? I just need it postmarked. I’m not sure it has to be sent out today.”

The clerk looked puzzled. “Well, once it’s postmarked it has to be sent out. If I give it back to you, I will have to open the envelope.” Not sure what to do, James again agreed, taking back the opened envelope and returning home.

That night at their parents’ home, John asked if the letter had been sent.

“Well, I got it postmarked,” said James, who was ready for an argument. “But then the clerk wanted to mail it out, which I wasn’t sure was what you wanted. So I brought it back here.”

John was not happy. “Why on earth would you not mail it out?”

[Letter opener]“Well, you never said that. You just said to get it postmarked,” said James, who was now very angry. “Maybe if you weren’t so lazy, you would have just done it yourself.” Though lobbing these abuses, James was more angry at himself for having messed up on so simple a task.

The memory of that event came back to him many years later while hearing from the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit poem describing the life and activities of the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as Lord Rama, the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya. In a particular section, Shri Hanuman, Rama’s trusted messenger, remarks on how even a plan that is sure to have success can get foiled when the confused messenger goes against time and circumstance.

“Yup, that was me, for sure,” James thought to himself. “That day when John asked me to get that letter postmarked. How simple a task that was. Who would mess something like that up? Well, he put the task into the hands of a confused messenger, and therefore everything was ruined.”

[Shri Hanuman]Then, he couldn’t help but appreciate Shri Hanuman and how fortunate Rama was to have someone like him. “It’s amazing that Hanuman would worry over such a matter. He is not a confused messenger at all. Though here he’s not really sure what to do, as he has a few options. He could approach Sita and talk to her or he could just return home without giving her Rama’s message. He’s worried that by talking to her, the enemy will be tipped off that he is there. He’s worried that the ensuing conflict will jeopardize Rama’s chances to regain Sita, who was taken to Lanka by the evil king named Ravana. But Hanuman is great. He will succeed because he has love for God, which defeats confusion. It also helps one to reach success, for the servant gets guidance from within, from the chaitya-guru, who is God Himself. That Hanuman will succeed shows that he is dear to Rama, who protects him from failure.”

In Closing:

To carry out important task,

A trusted messenger to ask.


But if in course to be confused,

As failure by others could be abused.


Hanuman over this point thought too,

When in finding Sita deciding what to do.


Service for Rama, so help from within to come,

Hanuman never fails, like him there is none.

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