American Freedom: Return to Sender

Published Friday, Feb. 22, 2008 in The Register-Guard.

I could have let it go. Really. It was a minor inconvenience, at best. There are more important things to get worked up about. I have no reason to believe they aren’t good people, and I’m certain they were just trying to do their jobs.

I was running errands, doing what we all do from time to time — jamming two extra tasks into what was already too little time. A pile of packages to the Internal Revenue Service contained various parts of you-know-what. I went to the post office to get them weighed and mailed.

“You really should put a return address on these,” said the counterperson in a very cordial voice. I looked at the dozen envelopes and resisted. “I’d rather not take the time,” I admitted.

“But if it gets lost, then we’ll know how to return it to you.”

“They have pre-addressed labels for the IRS. I don’t think they’ll get lost.”

“The labels could fall off.”

“What’s inside couldn’t be for anyone but the IRS, and my name and address are on each form inside.”

“But you really should —” He looked to the colleague at his right. “He’s mailing all these to the IRS, but he doesn’t have return addresses on the envelopes. Is that allowed?”

“They should have a return address, just in case,” she agreed.

Forgetting I had been in a hurry, I asked, “Is it a requirement?”

The second clerk asked the third, “Is he required to put his return address on envelopes to the IRS?”

“I don’t know, but he really should.”

Across the postal counter, a Greek chorus spoke as one, proffering the truth to my dilemma. But they hadn’t quite answered my question.

“Must I?” “You should.”

But there are many things I should do that I don’t do. My dentist wishes I would floss.

Once it became clear that these clerks wouldn’t be accomplices to my pernicious postal proclivities, I gathered my packages, bought some stamps and quietly exited.

That could have been the end of it. Should have. Life goes on.

But I read on the receipt some inspirational words from founding father John Adams, begging for my reflection. “Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” Ah, yes. Courage is rewarded with freedom.

I claim nothing so noble in my lazy defiance, but I was willing to accept the risk and I told the postal clerks that. If the mail never arrived, I would have only myself to blame. The clerks feared that if something went wrong, I might blame them for not making me do the right thing. “I don’t know you,” the first clerk admitted.

True enough. I only wondered, was this friendly advice or a government edict? As they stood together in their matching uniforms, were they offering me the voice of experience or authority? As we live our lives more nearly out of control, we often take suggestions as requirements. There’s a certain comfort to it. It’s one less thing to think about. They must know what’s best for me.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Stay tuned. We’ll be right back.

But if the world is becoming ever more dangerous, and enemies are plotting to upset our lives, shouldn’t we be making decisions for ourselves — just for the practice? Sure, we might fall once in awhile, but the training wheels of government don’t help us balance risk and safety for ourselves.

I plead my case with the words of Benjamin Franklin, our first postmaster: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

We never learned whether the postal suggestions were requirements, and I returned home to place return address labels on each envelope, just in case. No hard feelings. Honest!

Then I visited the Web site that the postal receipt suggested. It led me to the archives of John Adams. I browsed images of letters written to and from his wife Abigail during the fight for and founding of the freedoms we enjoy every day.

I noted one letter from 1784. Only the envelope has been preserved. You guessed it. No return address.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) welcomes feedback from readers at his blog, right here.