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Tami Inoue

I was standing in a line that just felt stupid-long.  The kind of line that only makes sense on Black Friday, at Disneyland, and...the post office at Christmas.  I'd been standing there for probably 5 min. and it hadn't moved.

I could hear the discussions of customers asking for reassurance that their packages would arrive to it's destination in-time for the holiday.  I could read the expression on the workers' faces thinking, "It's not my fault you decided to wait 'til the week before Christmas to send a gift...don't get mad at me."  

It was cold wasn't feeling jolly...but it's probably because I just felt silly as I looked down at the dime I was holding in my hand.  

The last time I'd felt like this was probably when I was 5 years old and my sister and I had to go back to the grocery store because we had been co-conspirators in stealing a piece of strawberry candy.  Our mom was nothing short of upset when she saw us unwrapping our misdeeds behind our backs and promptly marched us both back to the store as we got quite a good tongue lashing.  That was one of the longest walks I'd ever taken.   

I'd moved a few steps further up.  The automatic doors rushing in a cold breeze behind me.  I turned around and saw the line behind me was longer than in front of me.  Good.  I just wanted to do this and be done.  The dime in my hand was feeling small and insignificant...but I didn't have the option of leaving.

I couldn't leave because I remembered a time when our Dad, or someone...I can't remember who...had left their wallet on a train in Japan.  It had a significant amount of cash in it...and yet, when they went back to the train station, someone had turned the wallet in.  Not one yen (or cent) was missing. It was all there.  Even as a young 6 year old, I felt a sense of hope in humanity and wanted to be the person who'd done the right thing...'cause let's be honest, as a little 6 year old, I already knew what guilt felt like...and I hated it.  

By this point, I was next in line.  I started scanning the workers at the USPS wondering who was going to be the one I'd be talking to.  I didn't really long as it wasn't the man on the end who was always just so monotone.  He wasn't mean...just monotone.  He had blonde hair, glasses that I'm sure he'd bought in college 20 years earlier and never updated because it was unnecessary.  If I'd have to guess, I'd say he is the go-to guy when other's don't know the price to express ship to the Himalayans with extra insurance and appropriate box measurements...he seems like he'd be the guy that knows.  And of course, just like that...the person in front of me walked to the worker straight ahead, which timing could predict, I'd be talking to Mr. Go-To.

Why was I standing here for what felt like an hour at the Post Office with nothing but 10 cents in my hand?  Because I had been there a week earlier buying cute Christmas stamps and was given one extra dime in change.  How I even noticed it when I got to the car? I don't know.  All I know is I did...and I was standing in this ridiculous line to return it.  Why was I standing in this ridiculous line to return it?  Because a couple days earlier, I mentioned to my mom that it was silly that the $0.10 was bothering me...and the Post Office would probably just be annoyed if I returned it...they're so busy afterall.  I just remember her grinning to herself as she looked down at the pan of hamburger meat she was browning and asking me, "How much is your conscience worth Tami?  Is it worth ten cents?"   

"Next."  Mr. Monotone said.  I walked up and before I even got to the counter started blurting out my story..."I was here just a couple days ago and was buying stamps and I was accidentally given $0.10 too much in change and I know this sounds really silly but I'm here to return it and I'm sorry that I'm taking up your time 'cause I know you're really busy but I just wasn't sure what else to do except to return it this way so here you go..."

I remember handing him the dime as if it was hot and burning my fingertips only to look up and see Mr. Blond Monotone with his big glasses looking at me with a shocked expression.  We both just paused for a second because I wasn't sure if he was going to scold me for taking up unnecessary time or if he was going to say anything at all.  Please, just say something.

He looked down at the coin in his hands and just said quietly, "Thank you."  I just kind of laughed, hoping to alleviate the awkwardness I was feeling and said, "Yeah, no worries." and his little monotone voice quivered just a little as he put his hand on his chest and still looking at the coin and said, "No, thank you for didn't need to, but I really appreciate it.  This kind of thing doesn't happen...[he cleared his throat]...doesn't happen that often...and I um...I just really appreciate it.  I hope you have a very Merry Christmas young lady."

It was only 10 cents.  

It wasn't mine.  I should have given it back.  It wasn't difficult to do...just a nuisance.   The lesson I carried away wasn't the act of returning the coin, but the question I often ask myself, "Is your conscience worth __________?"  

Recently, my uncle had left an electronic gadget in a golfcart at the club and assuming it had been stolen he remarked, "No one's honest these days." and it just felt so discouraging.I make a lot of mistakes...some intentional. I'm so far from perfect, it's embarrassing.  But that question my mom asked me over her pan of browned hamburger has spared me often...and as I thought about what my uncle said, I thought to myself, "I just really want to be that person who would return the gadget...if for nothing else, just to know that there are people who would return things...because if I would, I know many more people would. But if I wouldn't, why would I think others would?"  

One of the quickest ways to lose faith in humanity is to lose my own guiding compass...I know it. Trust me.  But I know there was someone on a train in Japan 25+ years ago who decided to return a wallet that forever made an impression on this young girl.  There was once a postal worker who thanked me for returning a tiny little dime who's expression of gratitude over something so small, I won't ever forget.