Gustav Holst and a Toxic Spill

On 29 September, in 1919, The Planets, by Gustav Holst premiered at Queen’s College in London. It was a private concert then, but today this music is heard around the world. It consists of seven movements, each named for one of the known planets at the time, in 1919. I’m quite fond of The Planets and have found that my life seems to move by its movements on occasion. See “Eternal Whisper” for an example of how music can change our perspective . . .

On 28 September, in 2017, I showed up for work at the post office. After an hour or so, the clerks began using caution tape to cordon off an area. Then more caution tape was used to make the restricted floor space larger. Then an announcement came over the intercom that we were to evacuate immediately. We did!

In an orderly fashion, 47 of us left our work and went out the front door to the flagpole, the designated place to meet during an emergency. We eventually learned that a package had broken open and spilled a toxic substance on the floor and that we might be in danger. I had only my phone and my glasses in a pocket, and a water bottle in my hand. I would later wish that I had grabbed all of my belongings, especially my lunch, and that I had an extra pair of shoes stashed somewhere outside. A Converse cache behind a bush or something . . .

The minutes turned to hours, and communication began and continued throughout the day. Eventually, we were told about the substance, that it was mercury from an antique barometer that had been poorly packed for shipping. Note to your selves: pack your shipment as if it would be traveling over unknown highways, stacked among hundreds of others packages. Unloaded by unknown humans. Placed upon belt after belt in a preliminary destination facility. Sorted by an amazing mechanized process. Touched, gently you hope, but you do not know, by more unknown humans. More trucks. Perhaps a plane or two. More belts. Another truck. More humans. Then, it arrives at the local postal facility where there are more unknowns among hundreds or thousands of other parcels, each just as precious as yours, but not to you. You care about yours and so does your intended recipient. So PACK YOUR SHIPMENT AS IF . . .

The final result was that we were all paid to stand outside all day, where we had conversations that we could not otherwise have had. We sat in the grass. We checked our email. We shared a bit of ourselves, and I even shared this blog with a few of my coworkers. Then pizza arrived and we ate a free lunch with one another. A supervisor and I sat and compared our churches, noting differences in practice, but all the while talking about the same God. Then toward the end of the workday we learned that a hazmat crew would arrive with a mercury detector, and we were sent home after removing our shoes for cleanup overnight by the crew. Midday, after we learned the details, I quipped that the irony was that the shipment was not a barometer but was actually a mercury detector in transit to us. Haha. Well, it was a rewarding day, although each of us knew that the next day, after all was made well again, we would be facing the daunting task of delivering two days worth of everything. Believe me, many days, a normal load of mail and parcels is difficult to deliver in eight hours, but we would have twice of it all. But, the next morning, on 29 September, the date of Holst’s premiere, we all showed up and got it done. It took me a total of 13.5 hours including my average commute by the Portland light rail, known as MAX (usually I travel with shoes on, but the day before, I had gone home in bare feet). After a grueling day and one shared by other dedicated people serious about their work, we shrugged it all off, and began spending all that overtime pay . . .

And, as I reflected upon the whole episode it did not escape me that on this longest mail day ever, the shortest movement in Holst’s work is “Mercury, the Winged Messenger”.